CFN Take: USC, Kessler Rip Apart Notre Dame
Posted Nov 29, 2014

2014 USC Trojans ... Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian

USC Trojans

2014 Schedule
Record: 8-4

Aug. 30 Fresno State W 52-13
Sep. 6 at Stanford W 13-10
Sep. 13 at Boston Coll L 37-31
Sep. 27 Oregon State W 35-10
Oct. 4 Arizona State L 38-34
Oct. 11 at Arizona W 28-26
Oct. 18 Colorado W 56-28
Oct. 25 at Utah L 24-21
Nov. 1 at Washington St W 44-17
Nov. 13 California W 38-30
Nov. 22 at UCLA L 38-20
Nov. 29 Notre Dame W 49-14
Nov. 29 at USC 49, Notre Dame 14
And You Care Because … USC exploded with Cody Kessler throwing six touchdown passes, including two to George Farmer in the first quarter from 48 and 31 yards out, and a nine-yarder to Randall Telfer for a nine-yard touchdown on the way to a 49-7 lead. The Trojans got up 35-0 before Notre Dame finally got into the end zone on an 11-yard Malik Zaire touchdown run. The Irish got its second score on a one-yard Greg Bryant run, but that was it – USC took its foot off the gas. Kessler also threw touchdown passes to Adoree Jackson from 16 yards out, Darreus Rogers from six yards away, and Nelson Agholor from 14 yards out.
What Else? USC QB Cody Kessler completed 32-of-40 passes for 372 yards and six touchdowns
- USC WR Nelson Agholor caught 12 passes for 120 yards and a score
- Notre Dame QB Everett Golson completed 7-of-18 passes for 75 yards and a pick. Malik Zaire completed 9-of-20 passes for 170 yards and ran six times for 18 yards and a touchdown
- Time of possession: USC 37:39 – Notre Dame 22:21
Game Rating: D+

Nov. 22 at UCLA 38, USC 20
And You Care Because … UCLA busted open a 14-14 tie in the second quarter with 24 straight points with Brett Hundley running for a 15-yard score, finding Eldridge Massington for a 13-yard score and Paul Perkins running for a ten-yard touchdown. Hundley also threw two first quarter touchdown passes – highlighted by a 57-yard Thomas Duarte scoring play – to make up for a pick six to Anthony Sarao in the first few minutes. USC’s offense kept stalling, getting a two-yard Justin Davis touchdown catch for the only score from the O until the final minutes.
What Else? UCLA QB Brett Hundley completed 22-of-31 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns with a pick, and ran for a 15-yard score
- USC QB Cody Kessler completed 22-of-34 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown with a pick
- Total yards: UCLA 461 – USC 276
- UCLA RB Paul Perkins ran 24 times for 93 yards and a score
Game Rating: C

Nov. 13 at USC 38, California 30
And You Care Because … USC WR Nelson Agholor dominated in the first half catching touchdown passes from ten and nine yards out, and Georgia Farmer caught a 32-yard touchdown pass on the way to a 31-2 lead. Cal appeared to be completely down and out, but it got a six-yard Chris Harper touchdown catch with nine seconds to play in the first half, and then the rally was on. Following Cody Kessler’s fourth scoring pass to give the Trojans a 38-16 lead, but Cal continued to push with Jared Goff finding Bryce Treggs for a five-yard score and Stephen Anderson for a 29-yard touchdown to pull within eight. USC held on.
What Else? USC WR Nelson Agholor caught 16 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns
- Cal QB Jared Goff completed 29-of-47 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns
- USC QB Cody Kessler completed 31-of-42 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns with an interception
- Penalties: USC 14 for 160 yards – Cal 11 for 117 yards
Game Rating: B

Nov. 1 USC 44, at Washington State 17
And You Care Because … USC rolled scoring the first 24 points of the game as JuJu Smith made two 22-yard touchdown catches, and Nelson Agholor began his huge day with a 65-yard punt return for a score. Washington State suffered more than on the scoreboard, losing QB Connor Halliday to a broken leg. Luke Falk threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Robert Lewis, but USC exploded with Agholor catching an 87-yard touchdown pass and Smith adding a seven-yard scoring catch.
What Else? USC WR Nelson Agholor caught eight passes for 220 yards and a score, and returned two punts for 71 yards and a score
- Washington State QB Luke Falk completed 38-of-57 passes for 370 yards and two touchdowns with an interception
- USC QB Cody Kessler completed 21-of-32 passes for 400 yards and five touchdowns
- Time of possession: Washington State 36:30 – USC 23:30
Game Rating: C-

Oct. 25 at Utah 24, USC 21
And You Care Because … Utah QB Travis Wilson dove into the end zone for the apparent game-winning touchdown, but he was called out of bounds. He got another chance, and he made good on a one-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with eight seconds left to get it done. USC had control late, but couldn’t put the game away as kicking problems forced the O to go for it on fourth down, and WR Nelson Agholor stepped out of bounds short of the first down. The scoring was strange from the start, as USC’s Darreus Rogers thought a play was dead, but it was a lateral returned by Davion Orphey for a 53-yard touchdown. Cody Kessler kept USC in it with a ten-yard pass to JuJu Smith in the second and a four-yard touchdown pass to Rogers in the fourth, and Adoree Jackson return a kickoff for a score, but Utah kept pace as Devontae Booker made amends for a fumble around the one with a 24-yard touchdown run in the third. Even so, it was USC’s game until late.
What Else? Utah QB Travis Wilson completed 18-of-32 passes for 193 yards and a score, and ran 12 times for 27 yards
- USC WR Nelson Agholor caught ten passes for 110 yards
- Utah RB Devontae Booker ran 26 times for 102 yards and a score, and USC RB Javorius Allen ran 27 times for 11 yards
- USC QB Cody Kessler completed 24-of-32 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns with a pick
Game Rating: A-

Oct. 18 at USC 56, Colorado 28
And You Care Because … USC QB Cody Kessler threw seven touchdown passes with four in the first quarter and five in the first half on the way to a 35-7 lead. Nelson Agholor caught touchdown passes from 16, 18 and 75 yards out, and Steven Mitchell caught No. 7 on a 24-yard play in the third. Colorado got two Sefo Liufau touchdown passes in the third quarter, but it was never close.
What Else? USC QB Cody Kessler completed 19-for-26 passes for 319 yards and seven touchdowns, and Nelson Agholor caught six passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns
- Colorado QB Sefo Liufau completed 23-of-35 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions
- USC RB Javorius Allen ran 15 times for 128 yards and a score
- Yards per pass: USC 11.4 – Colorado 4.7
Game Rating: C+

Oct. 11 USC 28, at Arizona 26
And You Care Because … Arizona kicker Casey Skowron missed two field goals including a 36-yard field goal in the final seconds – after hitting the first attempt that was called back after USC called a timeout to freeze him. It ruined a wild comeback attempt, with Jared Baker running for a six-yard score, catching a 41-yard touchdown pass and running for a one-yard score, but the two point conversion try to tie the score failed. The Wildcats recovered the onside kick and got in position for the win, but Skowron went wide right. Javorius Allen came up with a huge day for the Trojans, ripping off three touchdown runs with a 34 and 48-yarder before coming up with a one-yard score to put the team up for good. Skowron hit two first quarter field goals, but the misses started coming, including at the end of the first half.
What Else? USC RB Javorius Allen ran 26 times for 205 yards and three touchdowns
- Arizona QB Anu Solomon completed 43-of-72 passes for 395 yards and a touchdown
- Penalties: USC 13 for 103 yards – Arizona 4 for 35 yards
- Rushing yards: USC 239 – Arizona 77
Game Rating: A

Oct. 4 Arizona State 38, at USC 34
And You Care Because … In an insane final four minutes, Arizona State came up with the win on a 46-yard touchdown catch from Jaelen Strong as time expired to cap off the comeback. Down 27-18 late, ASU took the lead on a 21-yard D.J. Foster run. 51 seconds later, USC answered with a 53-yard Javorius Allen run. 19 seconds later, Cameron Smith helped ASU pull within two – after the extra point – on a 73-yard touchdown grab. USC couldn’t get a first down and had to punt, and Mike Bercovici went to work with a 26-yard pass to Gary Chambers to set up the game-winning heave.
What Else? Arizona State QB Mike Bercovici completed 27-of-45 passes for 510 yards and three touchdowns, and Jaelen Strong caught ten passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns
- USC RB Javorius Allen ran 29 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns
- Arizona State ran 22 times for 30 yards, USC ran 50 times for 220 yards and three scores
- Time of possession: USC 37:18 – Arizona State 22:42
Game Rating: A

Sept. 27 at USC 35, Oregon State 10
And You Care Because … USC got a pick six rom Su’a Cravens, but Oregon State answered with a kickoff return for a touchdown from Ryan Murphy. That was the only time the Beavers got into the end zone as the USC defense held OSU to just 181 yards and a 38-yard field goal. Down 10-7, USC scored 28 unanswered points starting with two Cody Kessler touchdown passes at the end of the first half including a 48-yard Hail Mary to Darreus Rogers to close it out. Javorius Allen and Justin Davis each ran for scores from 17 and 21 yards out, respectively, in the fourth.
What Else? Penalties: USC 14 for 124 yards – Oregon State 13 for 107 yards
- USC QB Cody Kesler completed 24-of-32 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns
- Oregon State QB Sean Mannion completed 15-of-32 passes for 123 yards and two interceptions
- USC RB Javorius Allen ran 20 times or 115 yards and a score
Game Rating: D+

Sept. 13 at Boston College 37, USC 31
And You Care Because … Tyler Murphy ran for a 66-yard score in the fourth quarter, Sherman Alston took off for a 54-yard touchdown run, and Jon Hilliman ran for two scores as Boston College stunned USC. The Trojans took a 17-6 in the second quarter on Cody Kessler’s second touchdown pass of the day, finding Javorius Allen for a 51-yard score, and then the Eagles took over with 24 straight points. The Trojan offense slowed down, partly because the BC running game took over, but Kessler brought USC back to within six on a ten-yard pass to Nelson Agholor before Murphy’s big dash. Keller’s final touchdown pass to Darreus Rogers game with just over a minute to play, but BC recovered the onside kick.
What Else? Boston College QB Tyler Murphy completed 5-of-13 passes for 54 yards and a pick and ran 13 times for 191 yards and a score.
- USC QB Cody Kessler completed 31-of-41 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns.
- USC RB Javorius Allen ran 15 times for 31 yards, but caught nine passes for 118 yards and a score.
- Boston College LB Josh Keyes made eight tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. The Eagles came up with 16 tackles for loss, USC seven.
Game Rating: B+

Sept. 6 USC 13, at Stanford 10
And You Care Because … Andre Heidari nailed a 53-yard field goal with 2:30 to play for a 13-10 USC lead, and the Trojan D held on with J.R. Tavai blindsiding Kevin Hogan deep in to force a game-sealing fumble on a deep Stanford drive. The game was all about missed opportunities for the Cardinal with two missed field goals, two key turnovers, and stalls in the red zone. Stanford had a 10-7 lead at halftime with a Patrick Skov two-yard touchdown run and a 33-yard Jordan Williamson field goal, but USC’s defense managed to bend but not break in the second half. Two Heidari field goals in the second half were enough for the Trojans.
What Else? Stanford outgained USC 413 yards to 291 and held on to the ball for close to 34 minutes. The Cardinal dominated this game at times, but couldn’t seem to score, with missed field goals and penalties proving deadly.
- The USC running game worked. Javorius Allen ran 23 times for 154 yards, and Justin Davis pounded for 20 yards and a score on eight carries. Stanford won its share of battles, did enough to stay alive offensively.
- Red zone chances: USC 2-of-2, Stanford 2-of-5. The Cardinal got the ball on the green, but couldn’t putt.
- Welcome to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. USC DT/DE Leonard Williams made 11 tackles with a sack on a gimpy ankle.
Game Rating: A

Aug. 30 at USC 52, Fresno State 13
And You Care Because … Cody Kessler threw four touchdown passes and ran for another as USC rolled up 701 yards of total offense in the blowout. The Trojans took a 31-7 lead into halftime helped by two Nelson Agholor touchdown passes and with the half capped off by an Adoree Jackson 18-yard grab. Fresno State got two short scoring runs from Marteze Waller.
What Else? So much for all the drama of the week. USC couldn’t have executed better with Cody Kessler on fire from the start, completing 25-of-37 passes for 394 yards and four scores on the day with a rushing touchdown. He spread the ball around well and kept the up-tempo offense working.
- Fresno State is a far cry from last year and its high-octane passing attack. Brian Burrell completed just 11-of-19 passes for 92 yards with a pick, and Duke transfer Brandon Connette was a disaster completing just 7-of-17 passes for 68 yards and three picks.
- Finally, it seems like the depth is there for the Trojans. The offense got big performances from across the board, with Javorius Allen running for 133 yards and a score and JuJu Smith catching four passes for 123 yards. USC was a machine.
- Fresno State’s offense couldn’t keep the chains moving converting just 2-of-12 third down chances – the O didn’t give the D a chance. Four turnovers and USC holding on to the ball for almost 39 minutes helped turn this into a laugher. It was a perfect end to an awful week for the Trojans.
Game Rating: D+

2014 Preview 

It’s been a very busy offseason as a new regime takes over at Troy.

The task of finishing what Lane Kiffin started amidst NCAA sanctions now belongs to Steve Sarkisian, who was hired away from Washington last December. The Trojans have lost a lot of traction—and scholarships— since 2010, but Sark and his staff are confident that the worst of the storm has passed. And they’re confident that Pac-12 contention isn’t far off.

The coaches have been eagerly installing new systems on both sides of the ball, including a far more up-tempo offensive attack. The spring was spent evaluating the holdovers, contemplating position changes and overseeing the quarterback battle won by incumbent Cody Kessler over redshirt freshman Max Browne. The summer will be spent fine-tuning what was started in April, and assimilating a dynamite recruiting class headed by JuJu Smith and Adoree’ Jackson.

Barring a summer surprise, Kessler will again be leading the Trojan offense in 2014. He was on the rise late last year, a trend the program needs to continue this fall.

Sarkisian, though, must flesh out who’ll be teaming up with Kessler, besides budding WR Nelson Agholor. The backfield is loaded with options, like Tre Madden, Javorius Allen and Justin Davis, but the receiving corps is littered with question marks. While Agholor is a given, it’s incumbent upon Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell and George Farmer to begin playing to their potential and physical ability. Of equal importance, how will a line that allowed 34 sacks fare now that all-star C Marcus Martin and steady RT Kevin Graf have graduated?

Defense will again be the cornerstone at USC. In fact, coordinator Justin Wilcox’s first Trojan unit could be as stout as Clancy Pendergast’s final one, which led the Pac-12 in total D. For Troy, it all begins up front with All-American DE Leonard Williams and the rest of a D-line that’s going to be very big and very physical. And it ends with a safety trio of Su’a Cravens, Josh Shaw and Leon McQuay that’ll be among the best in America. Otherwise, Wilcox will be looking for his cornerbacks and outside linebackers to be the linchpins that will determine whether the D is very good or great this season.

USC is trending up, long before a game will be played this season. The Kiffin era is mercifully over, replaced by Sarkisian, who by most accounts ought to be a good fit for AD Pat Haden. The program scored big on Signing Day, and it’s just a year away from being able to fill a full roster of 85 players. The Trojans are nearly out of the woods, and they’re excited to resume competing for Pac-12 titles as soon as possible.

What to watch for on offense: Kessler’s targets. Marqise Lee is gone, as is TE Xavier Grimble. Who emerges to take pressure off All-American candidate Nelson Agholor? There are plenty of candidates, but none that have created more excitement than sophomore WR Darreus Rogers and junior TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. The 6-2, 210-pound Rogers has elicited Sterling Sharpe comparisons for his hands and physicality. And Cope-Fitzpatrick has had a terrific offseason, taking advantage of Randall Telfer’s slow-healing knee injury. Both pass-catchers are capable of breakout seasons in 2014.

What to watch for on defense: D-line prowess. There were departures, sure, but USC feels it could have one of the best defensive lines in the country this fall. While Leonard Williams is the front man, he’s going to get a lot of help in the trenches. DT Claude Pelon and DE Delvon Simmons are high-ceiling newcomers from La Mesa (Calif.) Community College and Texas Tech, respectively. Antwaun Woods is a mainstay at nose tackle. And junior DT Greg Townsend and redshirt freshman NT Kenny Bigelow are poised to come into their own. Running on this unit will be very difficult in 2014.

The team will be far better if… it starts clicking on third downs. USC’s inability to extend drives was one of the many problems that plagued an offense that struggled to put together consecutive strong outings in 2013. Steve Sarkisian wants to unveil a balanced offense, one that’s capable of moving the sticks equally well on the ground as through the air. When the Trojans finish 97th nationally in third-down conversions, as it did last year, both sides of the ball are negatively impacted.

The Schedule: The Sarkisian era starts out with a bang facing six straight bowl teams from last season in a row including two conference champions with Fresno State to kick things off and a date at Stanford to follow. The non-conference slate doesn’t have any layups facing the Bulldogs, going to Boston College, and dealing with the annual date against Notre Dame at home. Outside of the Pac-12 opener in Palo Alto, the conference schedule isn’t too bad, either.

Missing Oregon from the North offsets the bad break of having to play Stanford, and getting Oregon State, Washington State and Cal in interdivision play is a relative break. All in all, considering the UCLA game isn’t really a true road date, going away to face Wazzu, Utah and Arizona isn’t all that bad.

Best offensive player: Junior WR Nelson Agholor. Robert Woods. Marqise Lee. And now Agholor. The third-year Trojan is prepared to take the torch from his predecessors and become the next great wide receiver in the program. Agholor just keeps getting better, honing his fundamentals to match his raw speed and elusiveness. He’s the closest thing to a sure-thing on the outside, especially now that Lee is a Jacksonville Jaguar. The drop-off from Agholor to juniors George Farmer and Victor Blackwell, sophomore Darreus Rogers and redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell is steeper than USC would like.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Leonard Williams. During the height of the Pete Carroll era at USC, the Trojans dominated the line of scrimmage with the likes of Mike Patterson, Sedrick Ellis and Kenechi Udeze. Williams has the tools to be the best Trojan D-lineman of the past decade. He does so many things well for a defense, from rushing the passer to stuffing the run. Williams is the kind of lineman, who requires more than one blocker and leaves school early to be a high first-round draft choice. In a salary run junior year, he’s about to become a household name.

Key players to a successful season: The interior O-linemen. The graduations of C Marcus Martin and G John Martinez have the Trojans reshuffling the deck this offseason. The unit’s best blocker, versatile Max Tuerk, is moving further inside to supplant Martin at the pivot. Senior Aundrey Walker has 18 career starts, but he’s lacked consistency and he missed the spring with an ankle injury. Sophomore Jordan Simmons, too, has been hobbled this offseason with a knee injury. The staff is giving long looks to a pair of rookies, redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers and true freshman Toa Lobendahn, who closed out the spring atop the depth chart.

The season will be a success if ... the Trojans win nine regular season games in Sarkisian’s debut. Sure, USC is capable of capturing the Pac-12 this year, but the team is still a step behind the league’s powerhouses. And UCLA is only getting better out of the South Division. Sark wants to hit the ground running in 2014, while getting woven back into the fabric of Troy, where he last coached in 2008. If he can achieve the latter, while matching last year’s regular-season win total, he and his staff will be sailing into the 2015 campaign with ramped-up expectations.

Key game: Nov. 22 at UCLA. The Bruins versus the Trojans has always been big. It’s about to get much bigger, with both teams attempting to recapture their glory days. UCLA is the hottest team in the Pac-12 South, and it’s beaten the Trojans in each of the last two seasons. But Troy is on the upswing, with Steve Sarkisian looking to thwart the progress of Jim Mora, on the field and on the recruiting trail. The battle for the Victory Bell is about to get really nasty—and important on a national level—as both rivals take aim at being the king of Los Angeles.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: USC 172.8 – Opponents 120.6
- Yards per pass: USC 8.2 – Opponents 5.8
- First-quarter scoring : USC 124 - Opponents 37

- 2014 USC Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

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