All of last week, following their shocking loss to the Washington State Cougars, every aspect of the football program seemed to have a dark cloud hovering above it. Miscommunication on the team seemed to run rampant, and USC head coach Lane Kiffin had to coach amidst calls for his dismissal.
But one week, and one lopsided win, has appeared to make a world of difference. USC came out on Saturday and trounced Boston College 35-7, and all seems well again in Troy. The team will have to hope for a similar effort against the visiting Utah State Aggies, a team many believe to be one of the most underrated in the nation.
“It was a minute,” junior receiver Marqise Lee said when asked how much time had passed since he last found the end zone.
His 80-yard touchdown in the second quarter against Boston College was a symbol of good things to come for the Trojan offense, which finally seemed to find its groove following two frustrating weeks in which the unit did not seem to be able to muster any sort of consistent attack.
“It felt good to score and actually get in the end zone and put some points on the board for the offense,” Lee said. “We’ve just got to stay focused on our game.”
A big part of being able to score touchdowns and put some points on the scoreboard seemed to be the newfound confidence of redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler. Following a back-and-forth two-week battle for the starting position with redshirt sophomore Max Wittek in which the two quarterbacks split game time and practice reps with the first team unit, Kessler was given full reins and control of the offense leading into Boston College, and it seemed to pay off.
“I definitely feel more comfortable and feel a lot more settled,” Kessler said. “I feel more established with the [first team] and we’re getting better and better as we go through the season.”
Kessler was stellar against the Eagles but will need to play even better against an extremely confusing and versatile Aggies defense.
“Utah State is one of those teams you have to watch a lot of film and know where every guy is,” Kessler added. “They just move around a lot, but I’m excited for the challenge.”
The Aggies have one of the most perplexing defenses in college football, prone to overpowering offensive lines on one play and then lining up just one defensive lineman on the next. Regardless of which tactic they use more often, the success or failure of the Trojans will depend mainly on the offensive line.
“I trust in my offensive line 100 percent,” Kessler said. “They’re going to handle whatever [Utah State] brings.”
ONCE IS ENOUGH
When Kiffin was asked after practice if university president C. L. Max Nikias will call the Trojans’ first offensive play for the second consecutive week, Kiffin did not hesitate in his response.
“Not again,” Kiffin said. “He’s 0-for-1.”
Regardless of whether or not he uses Nikias on Saturday, Kiffin had plenty of success calling plays against Boston College, as the Trojans gained more than 500 yards of offense with a near 50-50 split of rushing and passing yards.
A big component of that successful offensive attack has been the potent run game, highlighted by redshirt sophomore tailback Tre Madden, who on Saturday became the first USC running back since the legendary Marcus Allen with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games to open the season.
Madden’s breakout this season has taken many by surprise, but not Kiffin or the rest of the Trojan coaching staff.
“When we had seen him in practice, it was clear he was an every-down back,” Kiffin said. “It’s hard to start better than he has.”
Another back with great promise but who has yet to see action for the Trojans this season is senior Silas Redd. The Penn State transfer missed his third straight game last week, leading some to wonder if a redshirt might be coming his way, making him ineligible for the rest of this season.
“I don’t know that [a redshirt is being considered],” Kiffin said. “We’re hopeful he plays this week.”
Though Redd’s presence has been missed, the emergence of freshman tailback Justin Davis has made up for Redd’s absence. Davis is second on the team with 172 rushing yards on 26 carries, and leads the Trojans with two rushing touchdowns.
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