Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The USC Spring Football game was full of ups and downs, as both sides struggled to fully solidify themselves amongst the heavy dose of competition. The game began with the ceremonial coin toss as captains from both team Cardinal and team White took center stage to kick off the festivities.
Team White, the defensive unit for the Trojans, was led by one of the rising stars on the defense in mike linebacker Hayes Pullard. The junior from Crenshaw anointed himself as the leader of the new 5-2 defense, after an impressive spring camp.
While the Clancy Pendergast scheme may be a change of pace for many of the returning starters, Pullard has made one of the smoothest transitions from weak to middle linebacker in this stretched-out scheme.
Pullard is coming off a break-out year in his sophomore campaign, registering 107 tackles, eight for loss, and a pick-six as one of the bright spots on last year’s defense. Pullard finished the year with an All Pac-12 Honorable Mention.
Things for team Cardinal were not as easy, as the offense scuffled along looking to find their leader in front of 15,284 Trojan Faithful.
Lane Kiffin, scrambling to find a player to represent the team in the midst of pregame preparation, called upon Cody Kessler to run out and participate in the coin toss. When asked after the game Kessler shook off the importance of the event.
“I had no idea, I was standing next to him and Kiffin just said go out there and be a captain.”
This raises the question of who will be the emotional leader of the offense, to fill the shoes of four-year varsity starter Matt Barkley?
Max Wittek got the start at quarterback for the Trojans, completing 12-17 passes for 145 yards. Kessler looked impressive down the field, finishing the game with 242 yards passing with three touchdowns. While, Freshmen Max Browne took what the defense gave him finishing the day 7-11 for 80 yards and one touchdown.
The Trojans have talent on the offensive end with receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor , in addition to the duo of Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan leading the way in the backfield. While these weapons give the Trojans depth at the skill positions, its obvious that Lane Kiffin’s offense revolves around a quarterback with good pocket presence, and firing it deep when necessary, while also taking what the defense offers in zone packages.
Mar 5, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterbacks Max Wittek (13) and Cody Kessler (6) at spring practice at Howard Jones Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
“Really excited about the play of all three guys,” Kiffin said after Saturday’s game. “They all commanded the huddle really well and took control of the situation.”
Each of the quarterbacks showcased a strength during their playing time in the spring game, efforts mirroring their diligent work during spring practice leaving the starting spot a three-horse race.
And each quarterback showcased leadership qualities throughout the spring. Wittek showcased his timing and accuracy to numerous parts of the field, while Kessler did a great job of chucking it deep, hitting Marqise Lee for the teams first touchdown. Max Browne was patient –sometimes to a fault– playing within the system, firing the best completion percentage in the contest and taking the least amount of chances down the field.
“I will go back and watch the film, but I don’t think anyone separated themselves,” Kiffin responded about whether any quarterback emerged.
“Some programs are struggling to find one quarterback, we are lucky to have three.”
While all three quarterbacks took major steps forward, each of the Trojans’ possible gunslingers have areas to improve upon over the summer.
Cody Kessler seized the increased playing time throughout Spring Ball rising on the scene as a legitimate threat to take the starting job. Kessler’s greatest strength may be his presence in the pocket, alluding the pressure and utilizing his chemistry with Nelson Agholor to keep the chains moving.
Max Wittek compiled a “resume full of good plays” that he believes will grant him the nod come fall ball. Wittek may have the best understanding of the offense, notching two starts last season and a large portion of the reps in the early portion of Spring Ball.
Max Browne has the biggest ceiling, coming from the five-star accolades to the young man among the boys in the tight quarterback race. “Putting myself in Max and Cody’s shoes, if I am the quarterback, what am I going to do on that play?” Browne said on his preparation.
All three quarterbacks should remain tied in the depth chart come Monday, as Summer Workouts will be crucial for a quarterback to gain momentum for fall practice looming on August 1st.
“My mindset is to keep studying myself and study what others are doing well, and what I am doing well,” Wittek said.
Expect these three quarterbacks to continue pushing themselves to the next level, on and off the field.