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Trojans Adjust On Offense While Outclassing The Buffs

A couple new play calls, a few great deep balls from Cody Kessler, and big turnovers from the defense put this game away early.

JuJu Smith dives for the end zone.
JuJu Smith dives for the end zone.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This is what we expected, right?

A multi-faceted offense that spreads the ball around and can attack from the ground or the air, and a defense that cleans up the rest while making some big plays of their own. Cody Kessler set the school record with seven touchdown passes, and that is very symbolic of the way USC’s day went as the Trojans routed Colorado 56-28 at the Coliseum Saturday.

There isn’t much to complain about after a victory like that, so let’s go over some of the good things that happened:

  • Head coach Steve Sarkisian said at halftime that USC made a concerted effort to throw the ball downfield, and it was obvious from watching the game this was true. Most if not all the shots Cody Kessler took downfield were off of play-action, which seemed to suck up Colorado’s safeties and left the receiver in single coverage.

    These shots were seemingly simple reads for Kessler, with a single read to one receiver running downfield. The lack of deep safeties on these plays allowed the receiver to simply run away from the defensive back with most of the field to work with.

    This is something we haven't seen much yet this year, and it is fair to question why that is. Still, credit Sarkisian for trying new things and learning what his team does well. Expect to see more of this in coming weeks, especially with USC's running threat so strong.
  • I liked giving JuJu Smith chances on deep shots last game, and today they paid off. I think he’ll be a first round pick in the NFL whenever he decides to come out. Opposing teams will have to start paying more attention to him, which will play in USC’s favor.
  • Cody Kessler’s physical abilities were on display on Saturday, and even though he wasn’t perfect (i.e. an underthrown pass to JuJu Smith on the sideline that might have gone for a touchdown otherwise), he still showed well above-average arm talent. He isn’t as good as his numbers would suggest this year, but he has a high ceiling.
  • Freshman tight end Bryce Dixon had an effective game in the red zone, and caught two touchdowns. He has wide receiver-like skills. I am surprised, and a little saddened, he hasn’t been used more this year. You’d think Steve Sarkisian would find ways to put him in favorable matchup situations, not only for Dixon, but for the offense as a whole.

    When Dixon comes onto the field, the defense has to decide whether they will account for him with a defensive back or a linebacker. If they substitute a defensive back into the game, USC has the advantage in the running game because Dixon has the size and blocking advantage over the defensive back.

    But if the defense chooses to account for Dixon with a linebacker, USC has the advantage in the passing game because Dixon is faster than most linebackers. He’s a very intriguing player, and could definitely be more of an asset to the USC offense.
  • In general, good job by the offense gaining solid yardage on first down. When an offense faces second-and-medium or second-and-short, the entire playbook is open to the offensive coordinator, and this keeps the defense on its heels. That’s exactly how it played out.
  • On defense, really good drops by the linebackers and Su'a Cravens, which really helped the cornerbacks. That’s how Cravens got his interception—he dropped into coverage right into the passing lane of a comeback route that USC was repeatedly beaten on late in the Arizona game. Better job this time.
  • Kevon Seymour is such a technician at cornerback. He isn’t necessarily the strongest or the fastest, but he uses his hands very well to knock the ball away and is very fundamentally sound.

    Anecdote: I worked at the Coach Sark Camp over last summer for high school football players. Some of the USC football players were counselors. Seymour, without being asked, would pull students aside and gave them one-on-one coaching about their cornerbacking technique. He certainly knows what he’s doing, and seems to be a pretty good guy from that experience.

    Seymour messed up badly against Arizona State, but I still think he is a heady player, who I’d want on my team.