On Saturday, the USC Trojans held an open practice at the Coliseum, and nearly 1,000 Trojan fans showed up to see just what the squad has been up to since December. But if the fans thought they were going to get a sneak peak at Matt Barkley in action, they were mistaken; Barkley didn’t attempt a single pass on Saturday. Instead, spectators were treated to a little competition between redshirt freshman Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, a decision made by Lane Kiffin to see what they could do in a game-like setting.
By the end of the scrimmage, Lane Kiffin had much praise to give the two redshirt freshmen, especially the way they handled themselves in front of the crowd in the Coliseum. He even went so far as to say that he is confident in either of their abilities to be the backup for next season.
“I’d be very comfortable with both of them,” Kiffin said. “I think they’re both doing a great job. Neither of them has gone beyond the other one to know who the No. 2 is yet, but I think both of them would play really well.”
The two young quarterbacks split reps throughout the game, with Wittek starting with the first team offense and Kessler following with the second-team, and then switching after the mid-scrimmage break. Only two scholarship wide receivers were available to them during the scrimmage—De’Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell—but in spite of that, both Wittek and Kessler completed the majority of their passes, and neither threw any picks. So that’s good news, considering one of them will be chosen in the coming months to back up Barkley. They each did have one major snafu, though. Witteck overthrew Blackwell on the first play in the scrimmage, in what he said was a miscommunication, and Kessler slipped on the wet grass when trying to hit Tre Madden in the flats.
Though they may be progressing at the same rate, the differences in their styles, strengths, and personalities are very evident. Wittek has—and had last year as well—the better arm but is more soft-spoken, while Kessler has the bigger personality and is more commanding in the huddle. Also, Kessler has the very slight advantage of having had the backup role before, as he was given the title last season. This spring though, they have both gone to great lengths to improve in opposite regards, with Kessler showing that he can be called on to make clutch passes, and Wittek finding his voice in the huddle.
As of now, it is up in the air as to which of them will be given the designation as backup, but for now, this doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue. Both have seen how Matt Barkley rallies the troops and how he maintains composure with the game on the line, so hopefully they have internalized this and will be able to replicate it in their own time. And this upcoming season will be very important for Wittek and Kessler, as one of them will be tasked with being the starting QB once Matt Barkley has completed what should be a spectacular senior season.
There are six spring practices left, so the two still have a little time to try and get an edge over the other going into the fall. It is likely that Coach Kiffin will remain mum on the matter, waiting until fall ball to actually designate one as QB 2.