Cody Kessler will want the bad throw that led to his lone interception back, but beyond that his day was not the disaster that the scoreline might suggest. In all, he went 20/34 for 201 yards and one interception. He threw a perfect 22-yard ball to Marqise Lee which should have resulted in a touchdown but instead was dropped. In the fourth quarter when USC needed him to step up, he actually did for the first time this season. He was 6/10 in the final minutes for 82 yards, and two of those incompletions were drops on the final two offensive plays for the men of Troy.
Kessler may not have lit the world on fire, but as a game manager he did quite alright.
Running backs: B+
This grade should be much higher, given the way the running backs started, but whether through play-calling, offensive line play, or tiring out, the rushing game petered out in the second half in frustrating fashion. Silas Redd had an incredible first half. Rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown in the early stage of the game, Redd fought for every yard he gain, cutting through the tightest of holes with the natural instinct that makes him such a valuable weapon. Yet he ended the game with 119 yards and an astoundingly low five carries in the latter half. With Redd averaging 5.9 yards a carry, such limited late involvement boggles the mind.
Buck Allen was hit and miss in relief of Redd. Of his 26 yards, 17 came on one second quarter run. Justin Davis and Ty Isaac were non-factors with two and one carries respectively. In short, the rushing game was the strength of the USC offense once again, but the stable never took control of the game.
Nelson Agholor gets all the praise in the world for the way he’s stepped up in the absence of Marqise Lee, this time snatching six catches for 89 yards. However, Agholor too has fallen victim to the two biggest obstacles in the way of a receiving corp that has enough talent in it to be great: drops and injuries. The drops make it easy to drop the grade more and more each week. Lee’s touchdown bobble stands out most, but Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick dropped a key pass on the final drive, as did Agholor although it was understandable given the punishing blow he took from two Notre Dame defenders. The injuries, on the other hand, make if difficult to judge receivers who are playing hurt or no longer able to play at all.
Agholor, Lee, Darreus Rodgers, who had a solid game with six catches for 60 yards, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer all picked up or aggravated injuries against the Irish.
Offensive Line: F
The first half run blocking is about the only bone of a positive sort I can throw to the offensive line so I’m going to get that out of the way quickly. Unfortunately, the offensive line was to blame for most of USC’s problems on Saturday. In the second half, Notre Dame’s defense was allowed to bottle up the Trojan running backs, who had little to no room to operate. Of USC 27 negative rushing yards in the game, 25 came in the second half, including Kessler’s two sacks for negative 16 yards. The second sack on the long fourth down attempt in the fourth quarter was a particularly alarming display as the Irish took down the Trojan quarterback with a three man rush.
Then we look at the penalties. Six of USC’s seven second half penalties were thrown against offensive linemen — Cope-Fitzpatrick, a tight end and thus a member of the blocking unit, committed the final one. The merit of some of the holding penalties against the offensive line can be debated, but there were more than a few warranted flags and they were devastating, especially on the Trojans final two drives.
Clay Helton remains an upgrade on Lane Kiffin as the USC offense has looked much more fluid with him in charge of the play sheet. However, the decision to move away from Silas Redd and the run game in the second half makes as little sense as any of the mind-boggling decisions Kiffin made in his tenure. The rushing attack has been USC’s most effective element all year. Yet neither Kiffin nor Helton has shown much interest in riding it to victory.
Now onto the elephant in the room, the Trojans have two offensive line coaches. Two men whose job it is to make sure the athletes in the trenches are ready for whatever is thrown at them. Neither is doing their job very well. There have been questions about James Cregg’s effectiveness for awhile now, but Mike Summers is a well-respected offensive line coach who was expected to come in and fix USC’s problems. Instead, things have only gotten worse.