HONOLULU (AP) — Southern California still doesn’t have a clear
starting quarterback and coach Lane Kiffin is already taking criticism
from fans after an unimpressive win in Thursday night’s season opener.
But Kiffin says it’s most important that
the Trojans started their season with a win, giving him more time to
evaluate Cody Kessler and Max Wittek as he decides which passer gives
his team the best chance to win.
“I was hoping that a long time ago it
would be settled, but that’s not my job to just do what makes me feel
good,” Kiffin said. “I’ve got to make sure that I’m doing what’s in the
best interest of the team and I think that showed today. There was not
an obvious No. 1 out there today.”
Justin Davis ran for 74 yards and a
touchdown and No. 24 USC’s defense picked up for a shaky offense,
masking Keller and Wittek’s mixed performances in a 30-13 win over
Kessler salvaged a bad start with a
19-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor then gave way to Wittek early
in the third quarter as the teammates took turns auditioning for the
Wittek played more of a manager’s role,
handing off to Davis more often than throwing. He completed 5 of 10
passes for 77 yards.
Neither Kessler nor Wittek did enough to make a starting choice clear.
“Neither of them separated themselves
and we didn’t help them very much,” said Kiffin, citing drops, penalties
and a fumble. “We didn’t help them and obviously that falls on me.”
Kiffin said he doesn’t know yet what his
future plans are for the position, or whether his team will play both
“We’ll go back and see — we’ve got nine days to figure it out,” Kiffin said.
USC (1-0) intercepted four of Hawaii
quarterback Taylor Graham’s passes and sacked him seven times, directly
setting up each USC score.
Tre Madden had 18 carries for 109 yards while starting for injured Silas Redd, who didn’t make the trip from Los Angeles.
Star wide receiver Marqise Lee had
eight catches for 104 yards, mostly in the second half, for the Trojans,
who failed to score in the third quarter after entering the game a
Kessler played the entire first half
and the first drive of the second, finishing 10 of 19 for 95 yards.
Despite several overthrows, batted passes and an interception, Kessler’s
touchdown gave USC the lead for good and he spent slightly more time on
the field than Wittek after Kiffin said the players would split work.
But Kessler failed to get Lee the ball until 6 minutes into the second quarter.
Lee — who finished fourth in voting
for the Heisman Trophy last year — was visibly frustrated after several
plays. He dropped a fourth-down pass that would have given USC a
first-and-goal on its first drive. In the second quarter, he picked up a
bouncing punt and began to run toward the left sideline to get around
defenders, but fumbled and turned the ball over to Hawaii on USC’s 33
yard line. Late in the fourth quarter, he dropped a downfield pass from
Wittek that was slightly underthrown, but still catchable.
After his fumble, Lee scowled on the Trojans’ sideline with his yellow mouthpiece hanging from his open mouth.
Kiffin said Lee’s drops were unusual and didn’t help the quarterbacks.
“He’s probably three drops from having a pretty big day,” Kiffin said.
Hawaii’s defense kept the Rainbow
Warriors (0-1) in contention until USC scored two touchdowns in the span
of 89 seconds in the second quarter. Hawaii sacked Kessler in the end
zone for a safety to put its first points on the board, then got a field
goal on the next drive to take a 5-3 lead.
Hawaii’s lead lasted more than seven
minutes — enough time for Kiffin to become a trending topic on Twitter
as fans criticized his play-calling and his team’s performance.
Graham finished 16 of 41 for 208 yards
and a 60-yard touchdown to Keith Kirkwood with 30 seconds left in the
game. He also had a big block in the first quarter, lowering his
shoulder to send USC cornerback Kevon Seymour flying through the air as
Bubba Poueu-Luna scrambled for 19 yards on a broken rushing play.