USC bolted out to a 28-0 lead on Homecoming Weekend and never really looked back in a dominant 56-28 performance over the overmatched Colorado Buffaloes. Led by a record seven-touchdown performance from Cody Kessler, the Trojans found the end zone with relative ease all afternoon long. With the victory, the Trojans have now won back-to-back conference games for the first time all season and have a firm grasp on the Pac-12 South standings.
1. Cody Kessler Exhibited Trust
Following an outstanding performance where the redshirt junior quarterback had as many touchdown passes as incompletions, Cody Kessler revealed to the media how his game was shaped from previous weeks.
"I have to trust our guys more," Kessler said in the post-game press conference. "Not necessarily throw it up and see who comes down with it, but if it's one-on-one, the reason these guys are here is we trust them to make a play over someone else."
Believe it or not, Kessler has now amassed 18 touchdown passes to only one interception this season. The efficient pocket passer made the smart throws, tested the Buffaloes' secondary deep and was able to finagle through some early pressure to throw open his top targets. If Kessler can keep playing solid football, USC will have a chance.
His best play came for the record-setting touchdown. Kessler looked over three different progressions before scrambling to this left, slide-stepping and evading a pass rusher and throwing a dart to the corner for redshirt freshmen Steven Mitchell.
Cody Kessler fed his tight ends Bryce Dixon (2 TD) and Randall Telfer, but was also willing to target JuJu Smith for big plays giving USC two 100-yard pass catchers on the night with Nelson Agholor going for 128 yards and three touchdowns.
2. Justin Davis Put His Foot Down
As the Trojans continued to fire the football down field with the vertical passing game, running back Justin Davis took it upon himself to make big plays in the rushing game. Averaging 8.8 yards per carry on a 97-yard outing, Davis was speedy quick out of the backfield and made Colorado defenders shiver in their nightmares watching film.
Capped by his dominant 47-yard-run on the Colorado side of the field, Davis was electric with the football in his hands. While he did lose a fumble and that was certainly a minor knock on his tally, the Trojans went right back to the talented sophomore to ensure that he could be involved in the rushing attack.
Buck Allen has been USC's MVP to this point, but USC will need Justin Davis to be an equal part of the offense if they want to keep scoring points at a prolific rate.
3. USC Showcased Some Depth
Just when rumors circulated about the Trojans' struggles in the fourth quarter, USC's offense did enough to ensure that no close game was in sight. That allowed a slew of second-string players to earn reps on defense, resulting in a promising outing for players that will be relied upon as the season progresses.
Right from the defensive line, Delvon Simmons, Cody Temple and Greg Townsend Jr. all made an impact. Simmons deflected a pass and made multiple smart tackles in space. Temple held his own at the point of attack and proved vital in stuffing the shifty running game, and Townsend made some strong tackles and recorded a sack.
That translated to the backend of the defense where freshmen standouts John Plattenburg (career-high 8 tackles) and Johnathan Lockett were once again called upon to slow down Colorado's dangerous wide out tandem, both of whom responded to the challenge. Quinton Powell got some playing time at outside linebacker, something we've all been craving for, and Michael Hutchings was solid as well.
4. Props To The Pass Defense
Facing an offense that was 14th in the nation throwing the football, USC stepped up in the passing defense department limiting Colorado to just 231 yards passing. It started with great pressure early and often, making Sefo Liufau nervous in the pocket all night long for his career-low 143-yard passing afternoon.
Colorado thrives on throwing the ball deep down field, but USC wasn't going to be beaten deep. On multiple occasions, the Trojans forced the Buffaloes to check the ball down field where great team tackling limited the explosive plays. Leading pass-catching target Nelson Spruce did catch a touchdown but most of his work (6 catches, 69 yards) came in the second half after the game was already in hand.
What USC did extremely well was contest the football at its highest point, making life extremely difficult for Colorado wideouts to snatch the rock. Highlighted by the jarring hit from Gerald Bowman that resulted in a tipped-ball interception for Kevon Seymour, the Trojans' coverage unit was on point at the Coliseum.
Chris Hawkins, who played a more prominent role with Adoree' Jackson limited, led the USC secondary with nine total tackles, John Plattenburg looked more and more like a mini star in the making and J.R. Tavai finished the night with 1.5 sacks and numerous pressures in the backfield.
5. USC Got After The Quarterback
USC's defense entered the game near the bottom of the Pac-12 in total sacks, but on Saturday the defense brought down Colorado quarterbacks four times. Led by a 1.5-sack performance from J.R. Tavai, the Trojans were relentless in collapsing the pocket.
It was more than just the sacks. It was the effort given by the defensive lineman and rush ends, getting after the quarterback on a regular basis when sending just four or five players. That success, both in terms of sacks and quarterback pressures led to batted-down passes, tough throws and eventual incompletions.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox wanted to generate pressure up the middle, and the one-gap assignment for Leonard Williams allowed him to make signature big plays for USC's defense. That created more room for Tavai and Scott Felix to get after the passer in one-on-one situations and even Claude Pelon and Antwaun Woods were on point.