LOS ANGELES (AP) — Cody Kessler is done sharing Southern California’s starting quarterback job. That doesn’t mean he’s done working to prove he deserves it.
Kessler got all of the first-team work in practice this week after coach Lane Kiffin finally chose him over Max Wittek for the starting job Monday. The Trojans (1-1) will face Boston College at the Coliseum on Saturday without wondering when Kiffin will change quarterbacks, and Kessler is eager to show his coach’s faith is justified.
“I’m not trying to be corny, but it’s like he gave me the keys to the team, the keys to the car,” Kessler said. “Now, I take it even more personally with this offense.”
Kessler knows that car needs some serious work. USC’s passing game was pathetic with both quarterbacks in last week’s embarrassing 10-7 loss to Washington State, passing for just 54 yards — the Trojans’ fewest in a game since 1998.
Kessler only played the first half, going 8 of 13 for 41 yards. He also threw an interception returned 70 yards for the Cougars’ only touchdown when he took a risk on one of the conservative Kiffin’s few adventurous play-calls.
The Coliseum crowd serenaded Kiffin and the offense with boos, and Kessler can’t argue with the sentiment, even while he blocks it out during his preparations for a quick return to the stadium.
“My sole focus is on the team and getting better,” Kessler said. “The way that team played last week is not USC football. The crowd getting on us and booing, they had the right to do that.”
Although he didn’t do much to distinguish himself from Wittek during games, Kessler still earned the chance to take the lead role as the Trojans attempt to get their season back on track against the Eagles. Kiffin said he hopes Kessler will benefit from extra time with his top receivers, even while deflecting questions about why a starter wasn’t chosen weeks ago.
While Kessler is uniformly supportive of Kiffin’s much-criticized play-calling, he’s grateful for the chance to apply himself fully. When he got the news from Kiffin, Kessler texted his father: “It’s go time.”
“Those first two weeks … it was tough to focus on a game, to win a game, when you feel like you’re still competing for a spot,” Kessler said. “I had that thought in my head: `I can’t mess up, or you’re not going to get the spot.’ Or, `You’ve got to make this play or you’re not going to win the job.’ I don’t have to worry about that anymore, and it’s awesome to know the coaches have full confidence in me. It’s just a new sense of accomplishment.”
Kiffin refuses to compare the two quarterbacks publicly, saying it’s not fair to either sophomore. He praises Kessler for his execution in practice and in games, even while acknowledging none of his current quarterbacks currently measures up to departed four-year starter Matt Barkley.
“Cody manages situations that nobody outside of our team would see,” Kiffin said. “Whether that’s audibles, whether that’s things in the huddle, getting things fixed, getting people aligned. He’s still, obviously, very inexperienced.”
Kessler’s teammates are thrilled they’ve got a firm starting quarterback. Receiver Marqise Lee, last season’s Biletnikoff Award winner, is confident in his new quarterback’s ability to grow into the role.
“Now we’ve got the game plan,” Lee said. “Instead of playing that half, Cody can get that tempo going. You can go into the third quarter and work on it, and not worry about when you’re going to get pulled out.”