Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor
After a disappointing loss to Washington State in which the offense produced only 54 total passing yards, the Trojans are no closer to determining a starting quarterback. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek played one half each but both were unable to get much of anything going through the air and the offense as a whole struggled to find a rhythm all night. Coach Kiffin expressed frustration with the offense's inability to produce for a defense that has performed so well in the first two games.
"It was a very disappointing game today in terms of passing," said Kiffin. "I've never heard of stats like we had today. That was very discouraging."
Kiffin said the offense, defense, and special teams need to be clicking for USC to succeed, and only one of those three things got done on Saturday. With the defense playing the way they were and Washington State being turnover prone, Kiffin said the mindset on offense was to play it safe, a mindset he says he's never had as a head coach.
"The plan was that if we were able to hold up the way we were on defense early on to make sure that we didn't screw it up on offense. That was the plan."
Kiffin added that the Washington State defense played in a drop eight formation, rushing only three players and letting the rest of the secondary sit back in coverage. The head coach said they didn't see a lot of that on film during the week's preparations and blamed himself in failing to prepare the quarterbacks well enough. In addition, Kiffin said the offense continually stalled their own progress, having negative plays in the midst of developing drives. In low scoring games in particular, Kiffin emphasized the need for consistent play on every drive especially in such a low scoring game.
Heading into the game, Kiffin said it was not planned that Kessler and Wittek would each play a half but that their playing time was adjusted as the game developed. In the post-game press conference, the head coach said next weekend's starter will be determined over the course of this week's practice.
Cody Kessler started the game for the second week in a row and struggled to get much of anything done through the air. The redshirt sophomore was 8 of 13 for 41 yards, the longest pass going for only eight yards, but he did run for a touchdown (pictured). The offense relied heavily on the legs of Tre Madden throughout the entirety of the game but even his 32 carries weren't enough to open up the passing game. Kessler says he puts the blame on his own shoulders.
"I honestly wish there were a lot of things I could have done better," said Kessler. "One thing I can say is that you won't see us playing like that on offense and you won't see that negative energy again. We're USC and we can't play like that. The fans booing is them telling us we need to play better and at the end of the day they're right."
Kessler agreed with Kiffin's assessment of the game from a scheme standpoint, explaining that what fans don't see is the Cougars' defense in drop eight making it much more difficult to open up the passing game. The quarterback said he felt that he completed short passes effectively and got the ball where it needed to go, but wished they would've looked longer down the field.
After Kessler threw a pick-six with 27 seconds remaining in the first half, Max Wittek tried his hand at the offense in the second. He struggled to get things going as well, completing 3 of 8 passes for 13 yards and an interception. Wittek said he believes the lack of production is not due to the quarterbacks splitting time but rather an issue with execution.
"It comes down to execution of the game plan," said Wittek. "I think our line is doing a good job and we are running the ball effectively but we have to put points on the board."
Wittek said he needs to look at film to really assess what went on and where he needs to improve specifically. While fans may be frustrated with the uncertainty at the quarterback position, Wittek said it doesn't change his responsibility when he steps on the field.
"Ultimately that's the reality of the situation so we're both going to deal with it as is. When we go in we're expected to execute and we didn't do that tonight," said the quarterback. "I can't stress enough how well our defense has been playing. We need to score points for them."
The Trojans will have a break from Pac-12 play with Boston College up next on the schedule this Saturday. After going 2-10 in 2012, the Eagles have kicked off their season 2-0 with a 24-10 win over Wake Forest in their ACC opener. USC has a long list of things that need to be fixed this week in practice and the ongoing quarterback dilemma is a top priority.