What We Learned From USC: Week 1
Week 1 in Pasadena couldn't have gone much better for the Trojans, as they took down a hapless Fresno State team 52-13. After a tumultuous week, Southern Cal was able to put the Josh Shaw saga and Anthony Brown disruption behind them and put their best foot forward. While we knew that this was not the same Fresno State team that played the Trojans a year ago, the Trojans showed that they are a team to be reckoned with in the Pac 12 in 2014. Here's what we learned from them in week 1.
- The Youth Movement is Real:
In the final year of scholarship probation, the Trojans reeled in a 19-man class filled with promise. The 2014 class was expected to start the revival of a once dominant USC offensive attack and in game 1, they did not disappoint. Freshmen, Adoree' Jackson, Bryce Dixon and Juju Smith all had big contributions on the final score and showed flashes of what could be a special offense for years to come. Trojan fans have grown accustomed to #9 making plays in the passing game from Marqise Lee, and Juju looks ready to ready to step into those shoes, in number and production. Smith made the most of his 4 catches, racking up 132 yards, which led all passcatchers in the game by over 60 yards. On a scoring drive late in the quarter, he took a screen pass 55 yards after blowing by three Fresno defenders. Then, on the next drive, caught a 20-yard comeback, spun off a defender and galloped another 25 yards to set up a field goal to put the Trojans up 24-0. Dixon, after an early drop, showed his athleticism at the tight end position on his only catch of the afternoon. Late in the third quarter and 20 yards from paydirt, Dixon was able to get behind the defense, beat cornerback Bryan Harper to the back of the endzone and catch a beautiful ball from Cody Kessler. Not to be outdone, Adoree' Jackson notched an 18 yard touchdown in the last minute of the first half and finished with 36 yards on 3 catches. Its safe to say that these three will continue to be spotlighted in this offense and they look ready to answer the bell.
- ... On the Offensive Line, Too
Skill positions weren't the only place that the Trojans found themselves relying on true freshman to step into big roles. Coach Steve Sarkisian called on freshman, Damian Mama and Toa Lobendahn to hold down the offensive guard position. Tasked with opening holes for the Buck Allen and keeping pressure off of Cody Kessler, the youngins once again came through. Throughout the day, Kessler must have thought they were still in practice and had the red QB jersey on. He found himself with all day to throw to his multitude of weapons and was rarely touched by the Fresno State defense. Mama and Lobendahn awarded the Bulldogs pass rush almost no push up the middle, which helped give way to Kessler's 394 yard, 4 touchdown performance. Buck was probably pretty happy with their performance as well. The young men opened up holes all day and Allen was able to gash the Bulldog's defense for 133 yards on 22 carries.
- Cody Kessler
One of the major storylines from the summer was the quarterback battle between returning starter, Cody Kessler, and the highly touted redshirt freshman, Max Browne. But, early on in the summer, Kessler won the job and week 1 showed us why. In the season opener, Kessler looked in complete control of Sarkisian's new fast paced offense. His experience shined through, as he looked poised and confident in the pocket and made good decision after good decision. Completing short throws with ease, as well as plays of 53, 34 and 32 yards, Kessler showed he can do it all, finishing with a QBR of 96.7, while spreading the ball around to 10 different recievers. With continued efficiency and command of the offense, Kessler and the Trojans offense won't be easy to deal with.
I know what you're thinking, and yes I did watch the defense too. But, not much could be gleaned from a Trojan defense going up against a confused offense juggling between two quarterbacks with different styles. Brian Burrell and Brandon Connette combined to go 18/36 for 160 yards and 4 interceptions thanks to an active Trojan secondary and opportunistic play all around. The front seven, though, will need to get better in the run game, as they gave up a combined 157 yards on 33 carries and 2 touchdowns. They also struggled with getting consistent pressure on the quarterback, for the better QBs they'll face in the Pac-12 will make them pay.
Overall, USC looked about as impressive and one could against a rebuilding Fresno State team. Sark's new offense looks like the perfect fit for an efficient Quarterback with countless weapons at his disposal. The defense has a few areas to sure up, but has all the tools to compete for the Pac 12 crown. And, their first true chance to prove that comes this Saturday in Paolo Alto against a Stanford team that also cruised in their warmup game, beating UC Davis 45-0