Maybe it was the complaints about a lack of deep throws. Maybe it was the new shiny helmets that were unveiled. Or maybe it was just that USC was playing against a porous Colorado defense.
Whatever the reasoning, Cody Kessler and the USC offense let it rip from the beginning, scoring 28 points in the first quarter on its way to a 56-28 blowout victory over the Colorado Buffaloes Saturday afternoon in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Kessler surpassed his predecessor, Matt Barkley, and all of the USC Trojan signal callers before him throwing for seven touchdowns, a USC record, before giving way to backup Max Browne in the fourth quarter. Kessler finished with 319 yards on 19-for-26 passing, meaning he had as many touchdown passes as he did incompletions.
The Trojans spread the ball around with four different players pulling in touchdown grabs. Nelson Agholor came away with a monster game pulling in six catches for 128 yards and three scores. USC took a 14-0 lead on Agholor's first two touchdowns. He punctuated a 10-play, 84-yard opening drive that took 4:13 with a 16-yard touchdown reception. The play was initially flagged for Kessler being beyond the line of scrimmage when he released the pass, but it was reviewed and overturned.
After Colorado started its opening drive with two rushes, the first throw from quarterback Sefo Liufau landed right in the arms of USC safety/linebacker Su'a Cravens. It took USC just 1:39 to go 47 yards on six plays, ending with an 18-yard touchdown for Agholor.
USC took a 28-0 lead to round out the first quarter with Kessler finding freshman receiver JuJu Smith from seven yards out and freshman tight end Bryce Dixon for a 15-yard score. Dixon only caught two passes for 24 yards, but both times he found himself standing in the painted grass.
After taking a 35-7 lead into halftime thanks to Dixon's second touchdown, the Trojans could have tried to sit on the ball and grind the game out with Buck Allen and Justin Davis. Instead, on USC's initial second-half drive, Allen got a carry up the middle and then Kessler let it rip, finding Nelson Agholor deep over the middle. Agholor took it to the house, scoring his third touchdown on a 75-yard play. The drive took 42 seconds.
For its next score, USC needed just 56 seconds to go 76 yards to go up 49-14. Davis ripped off a 47-yard run and redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell ended the four-play drive with a 24-yard diving catch for his first career touchdown. The starters day looked to be done with backups getting loose on the sideline, but after Colorado drove down and scored on a 5-yard toss from Liufau to Nelson Spruce, the first-team offense came back out for one final drive.
Allen picked up a pair of first downs on the ground. With USC facing a third-and-9 from the 39, the Trojans gave him another opportunity. He didn't pick up a first down, but that's only because he took it the entire 39 yards for a touchdown. Buck Allen finished with 128 yards on 15 carries (8.5 avg). Davis fell three yards short of joining Allen in the 100-yard rushing club, but settled for an 8.8 yard average on his 11 carries.
JuJu Smith ended with 104 yards on four catches and his first career touchdown, giving USC a pair of 100-yard receivers for the first time since 2012 (Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor).
The USC defense ended up holding Liufau to a career-low 143 yards passing. He tossed two touchdowns, but was also picked off by Cravens and Kevon Seymour, who got his first interception of the year when safety Gerald Bowman came over and blew up a receiver causing the ball to pop up into the air right to Seymour. Liufau's favorite target was nationally ranked Nelson Spruce. He caught nine passes for 69 yards and a score.
With the victory, USC moves to 4-1 in conference play and has a big Pac-12 South battle next week when the Trojans travel to Utah for an 8 p.m. MT start.