Kiffin, Kessler get USC offense on track

LOS ANGELES — Be it intentionally or unintentionally, Lane Kiffin has done a lot of appeasing in the last seven days.

He said that he would go with just one quarterback, naming Cody Kessler the team’s starter.

Check.

He said he’d spread out the wealth with the running backs so that Tre Madden wouldn’t have to carry the entire load.

Check.

And, whad’ya know? Saturday he opened the game with a play fake for Kessler to launch one deep to Marqise Lee. The pass was incomplete just out of the reach of Lee but, surprisingly, not much else went wrong for the USC offense in a 35-7 win over Boston College in which the Trojans put up 521 yards of total offense on Saturday.

After the first play call, despite it being an incompletion, there was a huge cheer from the USC fans for a shot taken down field that Kiffin dialed up at the encouragement of the school president, kind of.

“That was (USC President) Max Nikias’ play,” Kiffin said drawing laughs throughout the press conference. “He told me just throw it deep and they’ll cheer even if it’s incomplete. So, we ran that play for President Nikias.” 

On the first throw Kessler was off target but he didn’t miss many. He would go on to complete his next 14 straight, including a touchdown to Lee. The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner caught the ball and turned up field resulting for an 80-yard score to put USC up 14-0 in the second quarter. Nearly running stride for stride with Lee up the sideline was Kiffin, showing a side of emotion that is seldom seen.

“I was running behind him,” Kiffin said. “I felt for the kid. I’m usually pretty reserved. I think there were times today, with certain kids, that I just felt so good for them. He’d been through so much throughout the week and pressing so much that finally something clicked for him.”

For Lee it was his first touchdown of the season. That play was just one of  many highlights for an offense that began to find its way.

The offense on Saturday was versatile. It was multiple. It had variety. There was a heavy dose of play action. All of which was far cry from the bubble screen extravaganza of a week ago in the loss to Washington State.

Kessler spread the wealth, completing passes to seven different receivers. Starting with his first pass of the game, he took shots down the field and even made some things happen by buying time with his feet before connecting with receivers.

He had the look of a new man.

“It was just very exciting overall when you get that rhythm and not having to worry, me personally, about if I’m going to play the second half or coming out and just having one half to play a perfect game,” said Kessler, who completed 15 of 17 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns.

Kiffin sent Kessler text messages during the week acknowledging his support for his new starter. He also showed him clips of plays where he was successful.

It parlayed into a good Saturday afternoon for the Trojans.