USC number swap: Method to the madness?

LOS ANGELES – There is nothing illegal about players changing uniform numbers during the course of a game.

So when Cody Kessler switched from No. 35 to his usual No. 6 during last Saturday’s blowout win over Colorado, it was well within NCAA rules, as USC coach Lane Kiffin pointed out on Tuesday.

“We change jerseys all the time with our guys,” Kiffin said. “We changed some more this week. Everything is within college rules.”

USC special teams coach John Baxter is known for his successful, yet sometimes off-the-cuff schemes.

“I know Lane spoke to it and that’s where it’s at,”  Baxter said. “I mean, we’ve got number changes again this week.”
On cue, USC announced number changes on Wednesday for four  players. Wide receiver De’Von Flournoy switched from No. 10 to No. 80.  Cornerback Ryan Henderson switched from No. 15 to No. 14. Fullback Hunter  Simmons switched from No. 46 to No. 42. Lastly, tailback Robert Mojica switched  from No. 27 to No. 40.

Kessler, the third string quarterback, who is also the holder on special teams, says he walked into the Trojans locker room at the Coliseum on Saturday when Baxter told him that he’d be wearing uniform No. 35.

“I honestly have no idea why I did it,” said Kessler about his first half number swap. “I don’t know if it was some scheme thing he wanted to do or something like that. I have no idea.”

Kessler says he didn’t ask any questions, he was just doing what he was told.

His teammates joked with him that he looked like a running back in the No. 35 jersey. After the Trojans reached the endzone for the second time in the game, Kessler did his best running back impersonation by rushing in a two-point try. However, it was called back because of a holding penalty.

As the holder on the USC PAT, also known as “The Score Team,” Kessler runs the “migrations” the unit goes through, determining if they’ll kick or instead go for two.

“It’s just a read thing,” Kessler said. “Coach Baxter has always done the migration stuff. He always gives me a look to look for and what to read and so I get up there and I read it and if we have the look we want, then we run it and if we don’t, we shift and kick.”

The migrations, along with the number swap, represent even more things that the Trojans now have on tape for opponents to pay attention to.

With each shift and change of personnel that’s even more time opponents have to spend time to prepare for, not knowing if the Trojans are going to use it or not.

“There’s a number of schematic things that we do that is  really not intelligent to discuss,” Baxter said. “I mean, you know, it’s on  film.”

Call it gamesmanship.

“That’s a huge part,” Kiffin said. “That’s why we do a lot of the stuff we do. For instance, the PAT stuff that they do, that’s not they just got out there and shift. They’re in different formations almost all the time and different alignments. That’s because it’s a pain to prepare for. You got to waste time preparing for that instead of spending more time on offense and defense.”