Quarterback battle heats up as spring practice ends
In a spring fraught with injuries and difficulty, the USC football team held its final spring practice before its annual spring scrimmage at the Coliseum on Saturday.
The Trojans practiced without kneepads for the second consecutive practice, but the diminished physicality didn’t detract from the intensity and speed of the drills.
Junior wide receiver Marqise Lee again had a field day working out against the young Trojan secondary, making his presence known through a variety of dazzling catches including a leaping two-handed grab amid a shroud of defenders in the end zone during situational drills.
The battle at quarterback heated up as redshirt sophomore quarterbacks Max Wittek and Cody Kessler looked neck and neck during passing drills. The two quarterbacks had somewhat differing approaches to Saturday’s exhibition matchup; predictably, incumbent starter Wittek appeared nonplussed and determined about his performance.
“Obviously it’s a shorter scrimmage, but [I’ll try to] make the plays that are there, make the open throws and don’t try to force anything,” Wittek said. “I don’t have to go out on the last day [of spring practice] and make a crazy splash in the competition or anything. I think the real body of work is the resume that I’ve put on film over the past 14 practices.”
Though Wittek’s throwing mechanics and ball velocity remain impressive, the redshirt sophomore has taken to improving other areas of his play this spring.
“Decision-making and timing, making those decisions in a quick manner,” Wittek said. “Not to throw it every play — the big play’s not going to be made on every down. To take off and run and check it down if I need to.”
Conversely, Kessler stuck around following practice and got in some practice snaps and extra throws on a practically deserted Howard Jones Field. Theoretically speaking, it is Kessler who has the most to gain from a strong showing Saturday. Though Wittek has made an impression in starts against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech last season, Kessler and his play have remained largely out of the auspices of the general public. Saturday will be his first chance to show the public at least a glimpse of his capabilities.
“You come in ready to compete,” Kessler said. “Even though it is intersquad, you approach it like it’s game day. It’s Saturday, it’s in the Coliseum; we’re going to have fans there; it’s going to be nice to play in front of them.”
Head coach Lane Kiffin was pleased, in particular, with his quarterbacks’ ability to take care of the ball — a positive sign after the Trojan quarterbacks combined for 20 interceptions last season.
“[The quarterbacks] have really limited turnovers in the Coliseum this spring, which is very different than last spring … [considering] how much we were turning the ball over especially at quarterback, so it’s been really good,” Kiffin said.
Saturday’s exhibition at the Coliseum, which begins at 1 p.m., probably won’t offer too many definitive answers regarding the depth chart — Kiffin’s post-spring depth chart will be released April 15 — but it will at least give the Trojan faithful and the public at large a clearer picture of the quarterback race.
Wittek made an impression you say. One good vs. ND, and one pretty bad vs. Ga. Tech in the Sun Bowl.
It was sad that Kessler was not given a chance to play in the Sun Bowl which falls on Coach Kiffin who is
the one that needs to make a new impression on the fans for the better.