Through USC’s first two games, one thing has been clear: No matter how poorly the offense plays, the defense can be dominant enough keep the team in the game.
On Saturday against Boston College, the Trojan defense again delivered, but this time the offense finally broke through. Instead of finding itself in a close game, USC enjoyed a 35-7 blowout victory at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“The energy on the sideline was awesome today,” redshirt junior defensive back Josh Shaw said. “It’s great knowing your offense is moving the ball. The best place for a defensive player to be is on the sidelines.”
After struggling mightily in its first two games, particularly in the loss to Washington State, the USC offense erupted on Saturday, racking up 521 yards of total offense, including 264 passing yards, a drastic improvement from last week’s woeful 54-yard performance against the Cougars.
On defense, the Trojans again were stout, allowing only 184 total yards to the Eagles. Boston College running back Andre Williams, who averaged 160 yards per game entering this week, was held to just 38 yards on 17 carries.
“We were number one worried about their running back,” USC head coach Lane Kiffin said. “We hadn’t played against a power-I offense yet. It’s very much a Stanford-like offense. Our guys really tackled well.”
Through three games, USC has allowed 131 total rushing yards and just one rushing touchdown, which came late in the game Saturday when the Trojans had most of their second-team defense on the field.
After being named the team’s starter for the remainder of the season, redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler seemed more relaxed and played with a confidence level that he did not have in the team’s first two games.
“The first two weeks, and I’m not making excuses, but you can’t really take control and be that guy to lead when you’re sharing reps,” Kessler said. “I had a whole new sense of confidence [this week]. Coach Kiffin has been talking to me all week and trusting me. I felt comfortable and relaxed, and I had a blast doing it.”
Kessler finished the day with 15 completions on 17 pass attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns and did not have a single turnover. Entering the week as the starter, his newfound confidence was apparent to the entire team.
“Cody came out and had a great week of practice,” redshirt sophomore running back Tre Madden said. “You could just see it in his eyes, the energy he brought to the offense.”
“Just having that quarterback in there and working with him the whole week, not having to guess which quarterback is gonna be in, it really helped,” redshirt senior offensive tackle Kevin Graf said. “It definitely gave him a lot of confidence. He seemed a lot more relaxed today and really led us very well.”
Considering the ineffectiveness of the passing game against Washington State, fans’ expectations for Saturday were understandably low. But after throwing a deep pass that fell incomplete on the first play of the game, the crowd’s reaction caught many off guard.
“[The crowd cheering] was surprising,” junior wide receiver Marqise Lee said. “But then again, I know what they were cheering about. The fact that we were taking shots downfield, that’s all they wanted to see.”
Kiffin’s conservative playcalling against Washington State had been criticized all week, so seeing USC take a chance on a deep pass was an encouraging sign to many.
“That was [President C.L.] Max Nikias’ play,” Kiffin said of the game’s first play. “He said throw deep, and they’ll cheer no matter what. So that was for President Nikias.”
With all the negativity from the fans following last week’s loss, Kiffin was encouraged by the fans’ reaction to the team’s play.
“I felt like there was an effort by the fans,” Kiffin said. “We felt they came out today saying they were really going to support this team. I felt it on the Trojan Walk and down on the field. That just shows how special our fans are.”
“It wasn’t an easy week on our fans, with how passionate they are and what they had to deal with last week,” Kiffin said. “I’m happy for them to feel good today. We had good Trojan football for the most part today.”
For the first time since 1981, a USC running back has opened the season with three consecutive 100-yard games. Madden finished the game with 102 yards on 16 carries and one rushing touchdown, and also had two catches for 32 yards and a touchdown.
That accomplishment is impressive in and of itself, but even more so when considering Madden has played only three collegiate games at running back.
“I’m definitely getting more comfortable as the weeks go by,” Madden said. “Everything is slowing down more as the season goes on.”
Joining Madden in pacing USC’s rushing attack is freshman tailback Justin Davis, who finished the game with 96 yards on just 10 carries and one touchdown. After rushing the ball 32 times against Washington State, Madden was relieved to split carries more evenly against Boston College.
“[Davis] is a great running back,” Madden said. “In splitting our carries, we were fresh today. That definitely helped us out.”
Davis, who enrolled in school early and participated in spring practice, had his first taste of success in front of the home fans, but believes he can still do more to impress them.
“Not really yet,” Davis said when asked if he felt he had a breakout game. “I’m planning on improving every game. I’m never satisfied with a performance, so I’m gonna try to top every performance the next game.”
“The thing about the fans is, it’s USC — they’re used to winning,” Lee said. “I can’t blame them if they’re booing because we lose, because around here, winning is all they know. Once we bring that winning back, the fans, they’re gonna love it.”