USC’s football team welcomed alumni back for Homecoming with an impressive rout over Colorado on Saturday. The No. 22 Trojans (5-2, 4-1 Pac-12) put up 28 points in the first quarter on their way to a 56-28 win.
Redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler made history by setting a USC single-game record with seven touchdowns on the day. The Bakersfield, California, native did so on a 19-of-26 passing performance with 319 yards. His seventh touchdown, which was also redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell’s first career touchdown, broke the record set three times by former USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Kessler also became the first quarterback in Pac-12 history to throw seven touchdowns in the first three quarters of a game.
“At the end of the day, it’s awesome,” Kessler said. “I think the most meaningful thing for me was that I got to watch the guy before me set the record, too. I got to see Matt [Barkley] do it, and he taught me so much while he was here. He was like a big brother to me, so it’s honestly an honor to be able to break his record.”
Kessler got the scoring going on USC’s first drive of the game. He hit junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor on a 16-yard pass that was almost called back when officials thought Kessler threw it past the line of scrimmage.
Though Colorado’s secondary couldn’t handle the Trojans’ aerial attack, USC did well in containing Buffs quarterback Sefo Liufau. Liufau finished the day with 143 yards and two touchdowns, and was replaced with backup quarterback Jordan Gehrke at the end of the third quarter.
Sophomore safety Su’a Cravens intercepted Lifau’s first pass attempt of the day to set up another Kessler-to-Agholor connection for a touchdown that put USC up 14-0.
“I didn’t think he was gonna throw it,” Cravens said. “Luckily he did. I should have scored, but I got tripped up.”
USC’s secondary came up big again late in the first quarter, when senior safety Gerald Bowman knocked Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau’s pass out of a receiver’s hands and right into the hands of junior cornerback Kevon Seymour. That led to another Trojan score, as Kessler hit freshman tight end Bryce Dixon on a 15-yard touchdown.
Kessler connected with Dixon again later in the second quarter, but not before tossing a touchdown to freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith. Smith finished the game with 104 yards on just four receptions, averaging 26 yards per touch. Smith made a highlight-worthy one-handed diving grab early on, which earned him praise from his head coach, Steve Sarkisian.
“JuJu’s been battling a bad thumb,” Sarkisian said. “I think the team appreciates guys that are fighting through stuff, because everybody’s fighting through something. Everybody’s got something nagging them … We’ve got a team that appreciates guys giving it their all to go make those plays.”
Only Agholor had a bigger day than Smith, finishing the game with a career-high three touchdowns, including a 75-yard score early in the third quarter.
Agholor said that he and his teammates had some extra motivation heading into this game.
“This game marked our second half of the season,” Agholor said. “It’s good to see that we took steps forward.”
Redshirt junior running back Javorius “Buck” Allen took another step forward Saturday night, eclipsing 100 rushing yards for the sixth time in seven games this season. Though most of the attention was focused on Kessler, Allen made himself heard on a 39-yard touchdown scamper late in the third that put USC up 56-21.
Allen’s touchdown exemplified the big play mentality that Sarkisian brought into the game. Leading up to Saturday, he stressed the team’s focus on increasing their explosive plays per game.
“We want more explosive plays on our offense,” Sarkisian said. “We want to throw the ball down the field more and to trust our guys that they’ll go make plays. We did that from the very beginning. They weren’t all completions, they weren’t all caught, but it became an aspect of our team and our game … That’s got to be an aspect that we continue to improve.”
Kessler was happy to soak in the moment, but humbly insisted that he couldn’t have set the record without the help of his teammates.
“There’s no individuals on this team,” Kessler said. “Guys are starting to sell out for the team — offense, defense, special teams — and if we can keep continuing to buy into that, continue to work on that, this team can go a long way, in my opinion.”
Kessler’s seven touchdowns also tied a Pac-12 record for TDs in a regulation game.
Kessler’s five touchdowns in the first half tied a mark that Barkley and former USC QB Mark Sanchez both achieved.
USC’s defense held Liufau to a career-low 143 passing yards.
Colorado ran 95 plays, while USC only ran 63.
Colorado WR Nelson Spruce, who entered the game leading the nation with 10.3 receptions per game, caught nine passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Former Trojan tailback LenDale White was escorted out of the Coliseum after the game by security, and tweeted at USC Athletic Director Pat Haden to complain about it.
For more photos from the game, visit our gallery.