Steve Sarkisian has wanted his quarterback to let the ball fly down the field and not be so hesitant.
It took Homecoming, new helmets and a wide-open Nelson Agholor, who had steps on a Colorado defender, for Cody Kessler to drop back and let one rip. The USC quarterback connected with Agholor for a 75-yard touchdown early in the third quarter Saturday.
It was Kessler’s sixth touchdown pass of the day. Matt Barkley accomplished the feat four times, including in 2012 versus Colorado.
Kessler had a front row seat for that as a backup to Barkley.
Saturday, on the other hand, he separated himself from Barkley in what was a record-setting day, by throwing a USC single-game record seven touchdown passes in USC’s 56-28 romp of Colorado.
Kessler’s touchdown passes went to four different receivers. Agholor caught three, freshman tight end Bryce Dixon caught two and freshmen receivers JuJu Smith and Steven Mitchell each had one.
As the redshirt junior quarterback inched towards the record — five of his seven touchdowns came in the first half — teammates tried to make him aware he was nearing history, but Kessler wanted no part of it.
"Someone started to mention it to me, I think, at halftime or right at the start of the third and I told them just to keep their mouth shut and don’t even say anything," said Kessler, who completed 19-of-26 passes for 319 yards. "Don’t mention it."
In addition to Kessler’s huge day through the air, the Trojans also rushed for 213 yards in what was, arguably, the team’s most impressive offensive performance of the season.
"I love the fact that we had two backs just about over 100 yards each again tonight and we threw seven touchdowns," Sarkisian said. "To me, that’s an awesome identity to have."
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The USC head coach has challenged his team and players in multiple areas over the last few weeks and each week players have responded. This week, it was Kessler’s turn to impress his coach.
"We’ve challenged him on we want, more explosive plays in our offense," Sarkisian said. "We want to throw the ball down the field more and to trust our guys that they’ll go make plays. We did that from the very beginning and they weren’t all completions. They weren’t all caught, but it became an aspect of our team and our game that created bigger plays, got our average yards per play up, and we got yards in chunks, and in turn we scored more points."
The outing was somewhat surreal for Kessler. Of all the great quarterbacks in recent memory for the Trojans — Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty, Mark Sanchez and Barkley — none of them accomplished what Kessler did Saturday.
"It’s a really cool feeling," Kessler said. "It’s such an honor to be in the same category as those guys. I was here when Barkley broke it and he set the bar so high and he taught me so much so I got to thank him for part of this record."