The USC Trojans got their first big win of the season on Saturday, defeating No. 13 Stanford 13-10 in Palo Alto.
There wasn’t the top-end offensive output that the Trojans showed in Week 1 vs. Fresno State, but the new HUNH Steve Sarkisian offense had its moments, led by quarterback Cody Kessler.
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The redshirt junior was 15-for-22, for 135 passing yards while not recording a touchdown or interception.
Statistically, it was Kessler’s most underwhelming performance since last year’s UCLA game. But on Saturday, unlike last November against the Bruins, he showed resolve in the pocket when under duress.
Kessler found his safety blank Nelson Agholor countless times on crucial downs in the second half, and didn’t force his passes to lead to turnovers, despite being both pressured and predictable with his targets.
Of his 22 pass attempts, 13 were ticketed for Agholor despite the Cardinal defensive backs trying to neutralize the preseason All-American.
Whether Kessler was checking into Agholor’s routes or Sarkisian had Agholor as his primary read all afternoon, the distribution could have been problematic.
But give Kessler credit, as even when every one in the building knew Agholor was going to be targeted on critical downs, he was able to shift his eyes and/or avoid throwing into double and triple coverage.
Other than an intentional grounding that would’ve resulted in a sack, Kessler’s poorest throw on Saturday was a ball low and behind Agholor on fourth down and five at the Stanford 35-yard line, early in the fourth quarter.
Had Kessler gotten his pass out in front of Agholor, the play likely would’ve resulted in a first down, potentially allowing the Trojans to take the lead earlier in the fourth quarter.
But if you want Kessler to miss there, low and away from a defender is the place to be.
Overall, Kessler didn’t have his best game, and his negative 20 rushing yards can attest to that. But he wasn’t a liability and did a tremendous job of managing the Trojans’ three scoring drives.
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