LOS ANGELES >> Advantage Cody Kessler?
USC’s quarterback competition appeared to tilt that way Friday after Kessler passed for three touchdowns while Max Wittek struggled to move the first-team offense in the Trojans’ scrimmage at the Coliseum.
But afterward Coach Lane Kiffin made no pronouncements.
“There is no deadline,” Kiffin said, when asked how long he could wait to make a decision about a starter.
Sooner – as star receiver Marqise Lee jokingly pleaded before training camp opened – would be better than later.
USC’s Aug. 29 opener against Hawaii is less than two weeks away. The Trojans’ are scheduled to scrimmage a final time Wednesday, before beginning game-week preparations.
Asked if he would prefer to have a starter going into that scrimmage, as opposed to using it to decide the competition, Kiffin deadpanned, “I’d prefer to have a starter today. I would have preferred to have a starter a long time ago.
“But it’s not what I prefer – we’ve got to make sure we make the right decision.”
True. But the longer Kiffin waits, the less time the team as a whole, and the offense in particular, will have to rally around the designated starter.
Wittek and Kessler both performed well in the Trojans’ first scrimmage last week, and they were seemingly even going into Friday.
Kessler continued to make his case with another solid performance in the 68-play scrimmage.
Working mainly against the second-team defense, Kessler completed 20 of 29 passes for 231 yards. He connected with receiver Darreus Rogers for a seven-yard touchdown, and tailback Buck Allen turned a short pass into a 30-yard scoring play. Kessler also connected with Rogers for a three-yard touchdown against the first-team defense.
Kessler moved well in and out of the pocket but chided himself afterward for missing two open receivers. He also benefited, for the second time in as many scrimmages, from a cornerback dropping a certain interception.
“Overall, I had an OK day,” he said. “There’s just some stuff I can still improve and work on.”
Did he do enough to earn the starting job?
“I have no idea,” he said, adding, “It only comes down to one man’s decision, and that’s Coach Kiffin. And whatever decision he makes, I’m going to respect it and I’m just going to keep working hard whichever way it goes.”
Last week, Kessler started the Trojans’ first scrimmage with the first-team offense.
Wittek got that opportunity Friday, but he was unable to capitalize.
A blitzing first-team defense, which looked more comfortable and aggressive in its new “52” scheme, forced the offense to go three and out in each of Wittek’s four first-half possessions.
Wittek completed only two of seven passes for 15 yards.
“I just managed the game today,” he said. “I think that, really, I’ve put my resume on tape throughout the course of camp, so I don’t think today is any indicator.”
Kiffin, who will be the final arbiter, said that “the numbers got really lopsided” Friday because of the first-team defense.
The front seven repeatedly pushed into the backfield to stop runs and force hurried passes.
“You’ve got to take in the variables,” Kiffn said. “One guy didn’t really have many opportunities because of the defense performing so well.”
With Lee held out to avoid aggravating the bone bruise he suffered last week, Rogers stepped up with another impressive performance. He caught nine passes for 106 yards, again showing the ability to outmuscle cornerbacks for the ball.
“There hasn’t been a day he hasn’t made plays,” Kiffin said.
Rogers did not indicate a preference for one quarterback over the other.
“They both throw good passes to me,” he said. “They both believe in me. So I’m going to just keep doing what I’m doing.”
Tre Madden started at tailback and gained six yards in three carries. Freshman Ty Isaac, who has been held out of most contact drills because of injuries, rushed for 38 yards in 12 carries. Allen gained 22 yards in 11 carries… Receiver De’Von Flournoy caught six passes for 49 yards…. Safety Gerald Bowman had six tackles, linebacker Quinton Powell and safety Su’a Cravens five…. Freshman Max Browne completed two passes for 42 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown to walk-on receiver Aaron Minor…. Aundrey Walker’s position switch appears permanent. Last season’s starting left tackle worked with the first-team offense at right guard…. Safety Dion Bailey, who suffered a hip injury Wednesday and was on crutches Thursday, attended the scrimmage. He was not on crutches.