Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
The Trojans completed their 2013 spring camp on Saturday afternoon, in what wound up being a tackle-less spring game in front of over 15,284. But while injury concerns eliminated tackling, and subsequently the running game, the passing game was on display in the Coliseum, bring a fitting end to the first phase of the Trojans’ three-way quarterback competition between Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne.
Despite Wittek getting the start for the offense, it was Kessler that was named the captain of the ‘Cardinal’ team, and he sure played like one.
“I think I put everything I had into it,” Kessler told the media. And it showed. The redshirt sophomore finished the day with 242 passing yards and three touchdowns, while completing 68 percent of his passes.
Throughout the day, Kessler did the little things right. He found his receivers in stride, he maximized the size of his pocket and played within himself and his talent set.
Kessler’s first pass went for a 70-yard score to Marqise Lee, as Kessler used sound pass protection to find Lee, who didn’t have a defender within twenty yards of him.
Meanwhile, Wittek played true to his scouting report, delivering both a few sensational plays and a couple of poorly timed mishaps. Wittek got off to a sound start on his first drive, hitting Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor for first down pick ups and was accurate as a passer.
Something changed in the second quarter however, as he started to struggle. In a four-play stretch, Wittek had an would-be interception dropped by Will Andrew, was sacked by Kenny Bigelow, then threw two straight interceptions into the hands of second-string safety Demetrius Wright.
Even still, being the ‘gunslinger’ that Wittek is, he kept throwing in third quarter and it paid off. Wittek turned in the play of the day, a 40-yard touchdown pass to Lee. He stepped up in the pocket to elude pressure and fired a strike as Lee elevated to make the catch and stay in bounds in the endzone, while shaking off the hands of cornerback Anthony Brown.
All things considered, it was exactly the day that you would expect from Kessler and Wittek. While Wittek has a higher ceiling with an NFL-inclined skill set, Kessler could wind up being the safer college quarterback based on his ability to limit mistakes and stay within himself, which Wittek can struggle with at times.
As for Max Browne, the freshman turned in a solid performance in his first spring game, completing seven of 11 passes for 80 yards, with both a touchdown and an interception. Despite seemingly being third in the race to replace Matt Barkley, Browne got plenty of playing time from Lane Kiffin and Clay Helton, though much of it included hand-offs to Tre Madden.
It was a nice end of the spring for Browne, who has had to face a stiff learning curve in his first camp with the Trojans. He used extra playing time from an injury to Max Wittek to further himself, and it’s paid off in him closing the gap between Kessler, Wittek and himself.
After game, Kiffin told the media that neither of the three quarterbacks had separated themselves from the others, saying that both Kessler and Wittek played “pretty good”, though he “would not imagine” having to make a decision based off today’s performance.
That of course raises one question: did the quarterbacks perform very well due to their execution or were did strong benefit from a shorthanded defense that couldn’t hit or tackle?
That’s hard to tell, and a big part of why the Trojans’ rushing output during the game could be thrown out of the window, considering that plays were blown dead at the onset of contact.
Up next for the Trojans is the conclusion the spring semester. The student athletes will emphasize the first part of their title until mid-May, when fall entrants like Michael Hutchings and Ty Isaac head to Los Angeles to gear up for summer workouts.
Fall camp is expected to start on August 5th for the Trojans, preceded a week and half before by the annual Pac-12 Media Day on July 26th.
We now return to the offseason.