A new wrinkle was adding to what we know as USC football last night. Cody Kessler the elusive scrambler. The junior quarterback faced plenty of pressure in the loss to Arizona State, and took off to run multiple times after being flushed out of the pocket.
While Kessler’s wheels are a positive sign in his well-roundedness as a quarterback, the fact that he had to use them as much as he did against ASU is a indictment of the Trojans’ inexperienced offensive line.
Kessler was sacked three times on Saturday night. And that’s an improvement from the five sacks on third down that USC surrendered against Boston College.
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Overall, the Trojans are giving up a sack about once every 15 dropbacks. And keep in mind that that’s an estimation, as it doesn’t include pressure-induced scrambles, which essentially are the same as sacks but wind up going for positive yardage, as opposed to negative.
Kessler had two notable scrambles on Saturday night, including his 8-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. He also did his best Johnny Manziel impression and juked a defender in the first half.
But it was the sacks that were the mostly alarming. Former USC commit and current ASU linebacker D.J. Calhoun walked into the backfield unguarded in the first quarter, rocking Kessler a la Anthony Barr on Matt Barkley. Given the inexperience of Max Browne as a backup quarterback, Kessler not being injured was a bullet dodged.
With the Trojans starting two true freshmen on the offensive line, trouble with sacks are naturally going to be an issue. And in a Pac-12 where sacks are the new norm, the problem is only compounded.
As of now, USC’s 15 dropbacks per sack (DPS) sit 8th in the conference. UCLA and Oregon are riding in the rear, giving up sacks every 8.1 and 10.9 pass plays, respectively. And that’s with the conference’s two most experienced and elusive quarterbacks in Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota.
So, oddly enough, it could be a lot worse for Kessler. And thankfully for the Trojans, his skillset and style of play are conducive to managing pressure well, as he puts a premium on taking care of the football.
He just can’t be taking viscous shots like he did on Saturday night. USC can’t afford to lose him, as there’s no evidence that Browne is as careful with the football as Kessler.
Here’s how the Pac-12 rank on protecting their quarterbacks:
* Does not account for scrambles.