Was Cody Kessler the Right Choice at Quarterback for USC?
Lane Kiffin gave the keys to an offense that has been more Yugo than Maserati to Cody Kessler, ending one of the Pac-12 Conference's longest running debates, according to Chip Patterson of Eye on College Football.
Now that the question lingering over Trojan football is no longer "Cody Kessler or Max Wittek," the next revelation to unfold in the coming weeks is how much a clearly defined No. 1 quarterback can help reignite a struggling unit.
Neither Kessler nor Wittek shined during split appearances in USC's 1-1 start. Week 2's most popular statistical refrain notes that USC gained fewer passing yards than any of the three service academies, known for their almost exclusive use of the run.
Obviously, a team does not accrue such paltry numbers with a reliable quarterback. Nevertheless, Kessler measurably outperformed Wittek against both Hawaii and Washington State, posting more yards, completions and the team's sole passing touchdown through two games.
Wittek's window of opportunity was much wider than Kessler's, dating back to the end of 2012 when he started against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. It was his job to lose then, and his job to reclaim now.
Wittek was indeed the victim of drops in the opener, though those may be a byproduct of the offense lacking chemistry due to months of uncertainty. Establishing a definitive offensive plan does not guarantee a fix to that problem, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
Kiffin's decision to exclusively run with Kessler against Boston College affords the redshirt sophomore an opportunity to build on his minor successes and establish a more consistent rapport with his unit. That process may have begun in the players-only meeting.
Following Saturday's loss Marqise Lee and the Trojans held a players-only meeting - http://t.co/51SfkzlQvd— Eye on College FBall (@EyeOnCFB) September 9, 2013
Getting in sync with the rest of the Trojan first string is paramount, as quarterback play is hardly the only problem vexing the Trojan offense. USC's preseason Heisman Trophy-contending wide receiver, Marqise Lee, has struggled with drops, despite leading the team with 15 receptions.
Lee's confounded assessment of the quarterback competition just days before traveling to Hawaii perhaps foreshadowed the inconsistency of the ensuing weeks.
USC has also been without senior running back Silas Redd, though the ground game has managed on the more-than-capable legs of sophomore Tre Madden.
Madden is a rare bright spot in the otherwise bleak forecast, racking up 260 yards and over five yards per carry. When Redd returns, and as freshman Justin Davis becomes a consistent facet of the game plan, USC must be a running football team.
Elements of that mindset were evident against Washington State, particularly Madden lining up behind center. Expect even more variation against BC, such as Lee on jet sweeps.
Kessler is not going to make the long completions to Lee that Matt Barkley helped fill highlight reels with the previous two seasons. Kessler's arm strength also isn't at quite the same level as Wittek.
However, he can make quick reads almost as an extension of the run game—speedy Nelson Agholor in the flat to force some spreading of coverage; Lee on shallow slants as opposing defenses have no choice but to load the box.
USC is not going to be effective chasing the knockout-blow plays, but can redefine its offense with a more methodical approach. Kessler is the best available option to lead that type of attack.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.
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