It took a little under 10 minutes for us to realize just how much better off USC is without Lane Kiffin.
Over the team’s first five games, the Trojans only recorded one play over 60 yards. However, during its first three drives in the post-Kiffin era, the team put together two.
Sometimes, change can be good.
Although USC was without leading receiver Marqise Lee (30 REC, 385 YDs, 1 TD), offensive coordinator Clay Helton—who took over play-calling duties after Kiffin’s departure from the team—dialed up an aggressive approach.
Quarterback Cody Kessler reaped the benefits, tossing touchdown strikes of 62 and 63 yards. The Trojans jumped out to a 28-3 lead by the second quarter and held on for a 38-31 victory over Arizona on Thursday to open up interim head coach Ed Orgeron’s tenure on a high note.
It was a welcomed change of pace from a usually conservative USC squad.
Kessler finished 15-of-30 for a career-high 297 yards, two touchdowns and registered his best adjusted QBR yet (93.5). He also had a surprising 34-yard run to add to his stat sheet.
Although it may not have been the sophomore’s most accurate night—his 15 incompletions are a career high—that could be seen as a direct correlation to the new play calling. However, given his 9.9 yards-per-attempt average on Thursday, compared to his season average of 8.4, I think it’s a move in the right direction.
In fact, the Trojans offense as a whole looks to be heading that way as well.
Against the Wildcats, the team racked up a season-high 546 yards of total offense. It was just the third time USC surpassed the 500-yard mark this season.
However, the other two instances—against Arizona State and Boston College—were against the No. 60 and No. 78 total defenses. On the other hand, Arizona (No. 23) presented the Trojans with the best defense they’ve faced all year.
It just makes Thursday night’s performance all the more impressive.
But aside from all the numbers, we saw a team that finally looked like they wanted to be out on that field.
Take Kessler’s postgame comments about , via ESPN’s Arash Markazi:
No disrespect to the coach who was here before and I’m not getting into that, but you want a coach that you will freaking go to war for every time [like] this man here to my right. I don’t only speak for myself. I speak for the whole team. We would go to war for this guy any day of the week. Any time he needed us we have his back 100 percent.
When you have a coach that you can see and feel that he cares about you so much and wants you to be the best that you can be and succeed, that’s love right there. I couldn’t ask for a better head coach. All of us would go to war and put our lives on the line for this man any day of the week.
When was the last time any USC player talked about Kiffin like that?
Sure, when the season finally comes to a close, the chances that Orgeron becomes head coach in a full capacity are slim to none.
However, that doesn’t stop him from coaching his heart out to help these kids succeed.
'These guys, it's for them,' Orgeron said. 'I watched them hurt. I just wanted a change for them. To see them happy and see the celebrating and see them feeling good about themselves and walking with a pep in their steps, that's all I wanted. I told the guys I'd treat them like my son and when you see your son hurting, you hurt for them, and I just wanted them to feel good.'
It may only be one game, but I'd say he's making some darn good progress.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.