Following a much-needed 35-7 win against Boston College last Saturday, the Trojans now set their sights on the Utah State Aggies (2-1), who are coming off of a 70-6 bashing of FCS school Weber State.
After combining for a mere 136 passing yards in his first two games, redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler impressed against the Eagles, completing 15 of 17 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
Earlier in the season, many argued that either Kessler or redshirt sophomore quarterback Max Wittek would play better if given the jolt of confidence of being named the starter, and Kessler’s play on Saturday indicated that might have been the case. In his first game after being named the official starter, Kessler led the offense with ease and finally highlighted the talents of star junior wide receiver Marqise Lee. The pair connected for an 80-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
“The one area that was so broken the week before in our team seemed to get fixed,” USC head coach Lane Kiffin said. “We’ll just continue to improve.”
Keeping up with Keeton
Unlike the Trojans’ shaky offensive start, the Aggies have experienced smooth sailing, boasting the eighth-highest scoring offense in the nation behind junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
In three games this season, Keeton has completed 78.1 percent of his passes, good for an average of 307.7 yards per game. He also leads the team in rushing, with 62.3 yards per game, and has thrown 12 touchdowns. Last year, Keeton set single-season records for Utah State in touchdown passes, completions, completion percentage, passing yards and total offense.
Kiffin admits that Keeton is the biggest threat the Trojans have yet to face this season.
“[Keeton is] a running quarterback who can throw the ball, who can scramble, who can do everything,” Kiffin said. “These guys have lit up the scoreboard for years.”
Indeed, the Aggies have posted 70 and 52 points in their last two wins, and Keeton has arguably established a spot in the Heisman race, with help from Utah State’s athletic department, who have popularized the hashtag #Chuckie4Heisman.
The clash between the Aggies’ eighth-best scoring offense and the Trojans’ eighth-best scoring defense is sure to impress.
Prior to the start of the season, Kiffin’s depth charts were a source of confusion for most, with most positions seemingly having co-starters. Now, three weeks into the season, he seems to have finally straightened things out, most notably at the running back position.
After three consecutive 100-yard games to open the season, a feat not accomplished by a Trojan since Heisman trophy winner Marcus Allen did it in 1981, redshirt sophomore tailback Tre Madden has been named the official starter at the running back position.
In the loss against Washington State, Madden carried the ball 32 times and was admittedly banged up afterward. The pressure on him was alleviated against Boston College with the help of freshman tailback Justin Davis, who rushed for 96 yards against the Eagles. Davis is now listed as the second stringer and has been the biggest contributor of USC’s crop of freshmen, followed by safety Su’a Cravens.
“We’ve got a number of guys — inexperienced guys — that now are playing for us, doing well, and we want to take them to the next level,” Kiffin said.
Senior tailback Silas Redd was left off the most recent depth chart and hasn’t been fully participating in practice, as he is still recovering from last spring’s knee surgery. Though he has been unable to contribute on the field, the success of the younger running backs has been partially attributed to his leadership.
“[Redd] has been helping us all out,” Davis said. “He’s been helping tremendously. I was a little flustered when I got here in the spring, and he took me aside and calmed me down a little bit. He’s been that guy for me and he’s helped me along this path.”
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