1) USC doesn’t have a quarterback.
This line is going to get overused until Lane Kiffin settles the QB situation, but it bares repeating until then so get used to it: “If you have two starting quarterbacks, you don’t have one.” Unfortunately, Hawaii settled little in the way of establishing a starter for this season.
Cody Kessler went 10/19 for 96 with an interception and a touchdown. He looked, at times, uneasy in the pocket and uncomfortable with the offense. However, his pass to Nelson Agholor for the touchdown could not have been more perfect and he suffered from a key Marqise Lee drop.
Max Wittek completed 5/10 passes for 77 yards. He probably should have had a touchdown if not for yet another Lee drop and all together appeared more comfortable in the pocket. However, he took sacks on his first two drop backs and failed to get a touchdown at the goal line.
Both QBs had their positives and negatives, but neither stood out. And that’s the problem. Kiffin can continue this rotation for only so long. The longer he goes without a settled QB, the less prepared the eventual starter will be with more difficult games down the line.
Kiffin says he has chosen a starter for the Washington State game, but has declined to reveal his choice, while the Daily News has reported that Cody Kessler has won the job, with Wittek due to sub in.
2) Opposing QBs should fear the D-line.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Hawaii’s Taylor Graham this offseason. Unfortunately for him, USC’s defensive line wasn’t listening. They sacked him on the first play of the game and six more times after that. The constant pressure forced poor throws and helped lead to the Trojans four interceptions.
Devon Kennard returned from a torn chest muscle that kept him out last season to log a sack. Leonard Williams, who impressed in his freshman season, proved that wasn’t a fluke by getting two sacks. George Uko got two of his own.
This is what new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast intends to see from his defense and this was the perfect jumping off point for the new aggressive style.
Best part is, that performance came without USC’s leading pass rusher last season – Morgan Breslin, who is out with a foot injury.
3) Andre Heidari is back.
Last season, Heidari struggled with a torn meniscus in his right leg and saw the 88% success rate from his freshman season drop to 62%. The uncertainty in the kicking game hung over USC throughout the year.
The Hawaii game showed that Heidari is back to his old form, and might be even better than before. The junior kicker made routine field goals from 20 and 22 yards, but also hit a career-long 52-yarder. Four of his six kick offs pinned Hawaii inside their own 20 yard line.
This was the kicker USC fans remembered from 2011, the one who was a freshman All-American and first team All-Pac 12.
4) Marqise Lee has work to do.
Lee is one of the most exciting players in college football with the ball in his hands. The problem right now is, he needs to keep the ball in his hands. The fumbling issue goes back to last season, when his attempts to do too much occasionally left him open to putting the ball on the ground.
The biggest concern is the drops, however. Lee’s stat line on its own isn’t that bad. Eight receptions and 108 yards is a pretty good day for most receivers. But Lee isn’t most receivers, and two of his drops were big deals. The first was on a fourth down in the first quarter. If Lee catches that ball the drive continues and there’s a chance it is a very different game. Kessler’s numbers and performance might be looked at totally different as that drive was the first time USC had any flow to the offense. The second drop also affected his QB in a big way. In the fourth quarter, Wittek threw a great down field pass for what should have been an easy TD. Lee dropped it inexplicably.
Lee is the talisman of USC’s offense and it will continue to struggle if Lee can’t right the ship.
5) It is too early to tell if USC is improved.
The trouble with judging this game is that we don’t know what is real and what is fluke. USC was a bit of Jekyll and Hyde with defense and offense. The defense was impressive. The offense was concerning. But was that a product of opponent? Or first game jitters? USC’s secondary came away with four interceptions, but will they perform as well against the spread? The Trojan offensive line struggled in pass protection, but was that a product of the constantly changing line up of fall camp because of injuries?
The Hawaii game taught us many things, but the biggest take away will be that we still don’t know much about where this USC team is heading.