Week 1 Grades: USC Downs Fresno State
Hey Trojan fans, aren’t you so glad college football is back?
Every week, I will be handing out grades like the Trojans are in school (oh wait, they are), assessing how each part of the team performed from game to game. And I bet you can guess some of those grades already after the confidence-boosting, 52-12 win over Fresno State.
It’s common knowledge that Week 1, or what I call "Warm-Up Week," is usually against pretty weak teams for powerhouse schools. This means that we haven’t seen the Trojans in the true crux of battle yet. However, USC definitely did many things right this week and they deserve to be discussed before Stanford comes into the picture.
See Kessler throw. See Kessler run. See Kessler do a spin move to avoid an attacker and still throw up a catchable ball. Basically, USC sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler did everything right this week, including making great decisions about who to give the ball to and when to keep the ball. Additionally, shoutout to the offensive line for letting Kessler get the confidence and comfort he needed to perform so well.
The only number we need to think about here is 105. That’s the school record-setting number of plays the offense ran during the game. Steve Sarkisian said it was going to be explosive, and he has apparently delivered on that promise. We’ve mentioned before how the USC wide receivers could be a point of weakness compared to Stanford’s, but many of USC’s freshman receivers answered those question marks with exclamation points. Nothing is more dangerous than a quarterback who knows he has ten different weapons he can pass the ball off to, which is why having ten different Trojans catch passes in a game is something that needs to continue.
The only reasons why the defense did not also receive an A: 1) They played Fresno State. 2) They played Fresno State and still let them score 13 points. I understand that is a harsh standard to set, but in a world where people expect shutouts against any team who is relatively unknown, 13 points is kind of disappointing. Those 13 points stand for the gaps that still must exist within the USC defense. That being said, the defense was nearly just as exciting as the offense, reading plays and timely interceptions. They held Fresno State to under 200 yards in both rushing and passing. But the Pac-12 is no stranger to Sarkisian’s "good-against-okay-teams, bad-against-actually-good-teams defense." This squad has yet to prove they are an actual good defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Because the Trojans had their best third-down conversion rate in years, USC did not have to punt a single time. Special teams also covered kickoffs well, but some might see Fresno State gaining on average 18 yards per return as too much. USC kicker Andre Heidari was also only 50% accurate on field goals, missing a 39-yarder, a distance which should be generally a shoo-in.
Sarkisian gave the college football world a solid debut as USC head coach. He kept the offense up-tempo without falling apart and also used many of his freshman players in places and moments where they would be successful. Smart move on Sarkisian’s part to make both his freshmen and his quarterback feel like playmakers, because they must go into Stanford with a good dose of both nerves and confidence in order to win.
OVERALL WEEK 1 GRADE: A (a.k.a. just keep doing what you’re doing)
Stanford’s already knocking on the perfect season record Week 2, so the Trojans kind of have to in order to win.