Los Angeles, Calif—On an overcast day in front of 15,284 anxious fans in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, USC closed out its spring camp with the Cardinal offense beating the White defense, 42-36.
It's a spring game, so usually fans walk away with two things on their minds: Should I renew my season tickets and can we win a BCS Championship?
We can't promise you a rose garden or a crystal ball until the cornerbacks master some techniques over the summer—like turning around quicker when the ball is thrown in their direction. Getting everybody back healthy would be helpful as well. But overall, there were a lot of positives in this game.
It's been over three months since USC last played a football game and since that forgettable Sun Bowl, one of the school's professors is under fire for slamming Republicans as "racists" during a classroom lecture, UCLA is on a roll, Kobe is out for the season and the surf hasn't been that great lately—USC fans need some entertainment.
USC's offense is very entertaining and some superb quarterback play coupled with lights-out receiver play made up for the gray ceiling over the Coliseum.
"All three good quarterbacks did some really good things out there...threw some deep balls very accurate," head coach Lane Kiffin noted.
Redshirt sophomore Max Wittek went 12-of-17 for 145 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. One of his interceptions was a poorly thrown ball that floated in the air with the tip of the ball pointing up—it was an easy pick for safety Demetrius Wright.
Wittek, however, was undaunted and thought he had done enough to earn the starting spot at quarterback.
"Obviously I had two interceptions, that's not ideal," Wittek noted but he also said he's made progress in areas and that "there's always room for improvement." But Wittek still didn't back off of a reporter's question on whether or not he deserved the starting spot.
"Yeah...I think I played well," Wittek responded. "I've put a good resume on film."
Cody Kessler may throw a wrench in Wittek's plans. Kessler had a very strong spring campaign and opened up a big ol' can on the Trojans secondary going 15-of-22, for 242 yards and three touchdowns.
Kessler also just seemed a little more savvy than his two counterparts at the podium. His voice was was filled with authoritativeness and his demeanor exuded confidence. Kessler also showed off some savvy PR moves by giving lavish praise to his teammates, specifically receiver Victor Blackwell.
"He's definitely one of those guys that's come along...had a great spring," Kessler said.
"For Victor to come in, to fight and work for that third spot..it's been awesome to see him come in. He never comes in and complains."
Blackwell is third on the receiver depth chart behind Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, two wideouts who have been ostensibly making NFL scouts drool over their future prospects. Blackwell had the best day of the trio catching seven passes for 155 yards. Lee finished the day with eight catches and 148 yards while Agholor hauled in seven catches for 116 yards.
That's 419 receiving yards by three receivers. That defines pedal-to-the-metal offense. The deep threat is very real, and it was readily apparent on the first play of scrimmage. Redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler threw a 70-yard bomb to Marqise Lee, who left defender Ryan Henderson in his wake.
Kessler, like Wittek, was also asked if he deserved the starting job at quarterback. He was very diplomatic in his response, saying that in the last 15 practices he, "put everything I had into this spring." But he never went there and said, "I'm the one."
"I think that I put everything I had into it," he continued. "Both these guys on my right (Wittek and Browne) are great quarterbacks."
Of course, what really matters is what the head coach thinks. And Kiffin was very pleased with the quarterback competition. Kiffin only pointed out one negative on Browne—"the rookie taking a couple of sacks"—while mostly praising the group.
"All three guys were very accurate, " Kiffin said.
"I thought Max and Cody did really [well]...made some good audibles in there, Cody got some things fixed at the line of the scrimmage as well, so it was good to see. And the deep-ball accuracy was really good."
Right now, there is no decision on who is starting at quarterback because there are too many cannons on the field. That's a nice position for Kiffin to be in when he has 20 (and counting) fewer scholarship players on the field than your average BCS team.
"I would not imagine a decision coming out of today," Kiffin said. "[There are] a lot of people around the country that are trying to find one really good quarterback...I think we have three."
The running game didn't have such a great day. The offensive line played well but the defense's front seven rocked the offense. The defense was responsible for 12 sacks and three interceptions; defensive end Morgan Breslin had three sacks and defensive tackle Leonard Williams had six tackles.
Still, for USC not to have a productive day rushing may be a cause for concern. Kiffin didn't seem too worried—after all, starting running back Silas Redd is out (surgery), and the spring game was basically a flag football game.
"The running game was really a little tough to judge because of the non-tackling," Kiffin said.
"That was really a decision made yesterday, based off there just weren't enough bodies out there. If we were to tackle today and lost a receiver or tight end, we just wouldn't be able to play throughout the day. That was why we made that decision."
The fans still seemed happy with the offensive effort. There were a lot of oohs and ahhs from the crowd as USC's receivers made made the secondary look, well...silly. Despite losing receiver Robert Woods to the NFL a year early, Lee seems to have found a new buddy to create havoc with on the field—Nelson Agholor.
"Nelson is the new Rob [Woods]...he understands the game just as much as I do," Lee said.
Lee is a game-changer on the field and makes USC's passing attack almost unstoppable. His soft hands are incredible, his moves unbelievable, his field awareness instinctual and his yards-after-the-catch skill is a backbreaker.
Yet Marqise Lee has a goal. Well, he actually has more than one goal, but there's one in particular he has put on record—Pac-12 defensive coordinators take note. A few days ago Lee reportedly said his goal was to not drop one ball this season. Naturally, a reporter asked him if that was true.
"Yeah...[laughter] That's a goal," Lee replied.
"I'm going to make it happen. Going through the season without dropping the ball. Me? It's possible. That is one of my goals. Even if I do drop a ball, I'm not going to drop one after that."
Now that would be an incredible thing to witness, and of course we all are going to keep track of his progress.
Anyone believe he won't achieve that goal?
Yeah, I didn't think so.
All quotes in the article were obtained firsthand.
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