LOS ANGELES -- That was exactly what the cardinal and gold doctor ordered.
After a week filled with questions about the passing game and the definition of players-only meetings, the Trojans let their play do all the talking on Saturday with a 35-7 victory over Boston College at the Coliseum.
The Trojans didn’t waste any time in letting the home crowd know that this game would be different from last week as new full-time starter Cody Kessler let fly on the opening play with a deep pass intended for Marqise Lee. The pass was overthrown, but the Coliseum crowd erupted in cheers, an obvious nod to the lack of downfield throws in the loss to Washington State.
“That was [USC president] Max Nikias’ play,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “He said just throw it deep and they will cheer no matter what.”
That was about all that went wrong for Kessler as he hit his next 14 passes. His first six went to six different receivers. By the time the game was over Kessler was 15 of 17 for 237 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yarder to Lee against one-on-one coverage from the Eagles defense, which was forced into that coverage since the Trojans were spreading the ball around.
“Coach Kiffin called a great game,” Kessler said. “He put me in position to have some multiple reads, and it was great to have options like that. I’m excited about our overall play. There was whole new confidence this week and I think it showed in our play.”
In addition to the success with the passing game, the Trojans also had a strong showing on the ground as Tre Madden went over 100 yards for the third game in a row and freshman Justin Davis also flashed his potential. That helped lead to 521 yards of total offense and more than 36 minutes time of possession.
Madden was the dominant performer in the first half with a short touchdown catch from Kessler to go along with 13 carries for 65 yards as the Trojans built a 14-0 lead. There were counter running plays, something that had not been a big part of the USC offense to this point, and Madden was taking advantage behind a nice performance from the offensive line.
Madden added a 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and finished with 16 carries for 102 yards. The majority of damage on the ground for the Trojans in the second half came courtesy of Davis, the electrifying newcomer who had 96 yards on 10 carries, including a pretty 17-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. The most impressive run for Davis came on a 39-yard play where he switched the ball from his inside arm to the outside arm like a seasoned veteran.
“We finished the game on the ground and I’m proud of that,” Kiffin said. “We had 43 rushing attempts and that really helped to open up the play-action passing game.”
The Trojans have rushed the ball 40 times or more in each of the first three games for a total of 130 attempts compared to 79 for their opponents.
As has also been the case so far this season, the USC defense once again played well and put tremendous pressure on the Eagles offense. Boston College featured a four-year starting quarterback in Chase Rettig and a productive running back in Andre Williams, but the Trojans ended the game with eight tackles for loss and didn’t allow an Eagles score until the USC reserves were in the game in the fourth quarter.
“I thought our first defense was lights out,” Kiffin said. “We were worried about their running back because we hadn’t played a Power I offense yet. It was all about tackling for the defense and I thought they did a great job. To give up only 184 total yards shows we did that well.”
Williams finished with 38 yards on 17 carries after rushing for 318 yards in the first two games of the year.
The Trojans improve to 2-1 on the season and return home next Saturday to take on Utah State. The victory over an outmanned Boston College team doesn’t mean that all of the early-season issues are gone for Kiffin and his team, but it was certainly a much-needed step in the right direction.