After three dismal offensive performances in four games, the USC offense finally looked somewhat right on Saturday in Tempe, as they put 41 points and 527 yards of total offense on the Arizona State Sun Devils. Unfortunately for the offense, or perhaps appropriate depending on how you look at the 2013 season so far, their performance went for naught as the USC defense gave up 62 points.
Lets pull out the ol’ report card and give Lane Kiffin’s offense their marks.
Cody Kessler had a mixed bag performance on Saturday night. On the one hand, he had the second best game of his young career, sporting a 163.4 passer rating on 20-for-29 passing and 295 yards.
He was routinely checking off of the deep ball, finding receivers underneath, playing within his skill set, trying to limit mistakes and do everything you would want a game manager to do.
Yet, on the other hand, his poorly-timed interception in the third quarter was the catalyst for Arizona State’s third quarter explosion. The interception was the result of miscommunication with tight end Xavier Grimble, and that could be a sign of Kessler still being in the process of building rapport with his targets, due to his in-season appointment as USC’s full-time starting quarterback.
Running backs: A+
Tre Madden and Justin Davis combined for 250 yards on the ground in Tempe, and all six of USC’s touchdowns, including involvement in the passing game.
Madden averaged 6.4 yards a pop on 20 carries, and if you take out his long run of 27, he was still over a five-yard average. Plus, Madden had two touchdown receptions for the Trojans, both of which came on third down.
For Davis, his 58-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter gave him three scores on the day and he was able to successfully compliment Madden’s style of running throughout the game.
At the end of the day, USC proved that they have a tandem of backs that are worthy of starting in the Pac-12, and put up solid production without being overly-taxed, as was the case early on this season when Madden was the lone featured back.
Offensive line: C+
Up front, the Trojans both won had their way with the ASU front seven, and struggled at the same time. With run blocking, the line routinely opened up holes that made it easier for Madden inside and Davis outside, while executing a picture-perfect screen pass for a touchdown to Madden in the second quarter that had guards out in front.
That said, Kessler didn’t have an easy night in the pocket, getting sacked four times in the game, and routinely having to scramble to avoid a rush. John Martinez, in particular, struggled to contain Will Sutton, who sacked Kessler on the first play of the game to set a tone.
Marqise Lee had a night he’ll want to forget, and not just because he tweaked his left knee in the fourth quarter on a punt return. His drop in the second quarter led to Cody Kessler’s first interception of the game. The mishap negated what would have been a big pick up on 3rd down and six, and gave ASU momentum going into halftime.
Lee finished with seven catches for 92 yards, with his biggest gain being a 51-yard catch on a deep ball down right sideline. Nelson Agholor had another underused performance with just three catches, and the tight ends had just two receptions, both of which were made by Grimble.
The biggest play for the receivers? Lee blowing up multiple defenders to clear the way for Justin Davis’s 26-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
It’s easy to poke at coaching when four turnovers become the downfall of an offense and the coach calling the plays is a magnet for criticism like Lane Kiffin. But the reality is that Kiffin probably had his best offensive gameplan of the season to date, and for the bulk of the game, his best showing as a play caller.
He was able to mix Madden and Davis throughout as compliments of each other, augmenting the passing game with the run and Madden as a passing-catching target, and he gave Kessler the best opportunity to succeed.
That said, there were key decisions in the second half that proved to be head-scratchers, with a fourth down call being the memorable folly, as Kiffin has shown a tendency of.
With USC down three scores in the third quarter, Kiffin rolled the dice on a 4th and 1 from USC’s own 41-yard line. Instead of running the ball or using what was a successful short-range passing game, Kiffin dialed up the wildcat, having Tre Madden take the snap and fire a lob to Jahleel Pinner downfield, which was easily intercepted by Alden Darby. Arizona State, with a short field, then scored on a four-play, 53-second drive to effectively end any remote chance of a comeback.
The play, which the Trojans have used before in similar situations with Marc Tyler and Dillon Baxter at the helm, proved foolish with the result and was a sign of Kiffin out-thinking himself. In ways, it paralleled Marqise Lee’s fly sweep on 4th and 2 at Arizona last year.
In summary, Kiffin had a solid game in the offensive coaching department for the most part and 41 points were scored because of it. But he’s not getting higher than a B- until he can prove to be a more effective play caller on crucial third and fourth down spots, which the Trojans converted on just 29 percent of the time vs. ASU.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think about the offensive performance? Did the Trojans’ 41 points prove that USC can actually score, or was it a byproduct of lax defense with a big on ASU’s behalf? Grade the Trojans offense in our poll and leave your say below in the comments.