Wide receivers, Cody Kessler shine in subued USC spring game

(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)

LOS ANGELES– A year after USC football entered spring practice with as much hype as any program in the country, it was a rather subdued day at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday afternoon, where a little over 15,000 stopped by to check in and to check out the Trojans spring game.

Before we get into any analysis, we should start with that number of 15,000 people, which as someone in attendance, I can confirm was way high. Frankly, it would’ve been high, even if school officials decided to count players, song girls and water coolers along with fans.

However, the fact that the school felt the need to fudge attendance numbers at a meaningless spring game really does speak to where the team is right now: A year after entering the season with such high expectations, the only expectation at ‘SC right now is that Lane Kiffin won’t be back coaching this team after the season.  

Fair or not (and as you all know, I’m not one to blame much of the Trojans’ current mess on Kiffin), that was the reality at ‘SC, where the Trojans took the field on Saturday. With 20 players out with injury and NCAA sanctions crippling any remaining depth, USC had a subdued spring game where the offense won 42-36, in a scrimmage that was tough to gauge anything since the defense wasn’t allowed to tackle.

It was hard to take much of anything out of USC’s spring game, but here’s my best attempt:

– The story all spring long was at the quarterback position, where redshirt sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler competed with early enrollee Max Browne for the vacant starting position left by Matt Barkley.

Well, in this one writer’s humble opinion, Kessler looked the best of the three on Saturday, and apparently the stats backed me up. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns, while Wittek (who clearly had the bigger arm of the two), was 12 of 17, but did toss two picks.

On the plus side, Wittek was also one half of the best highlight of the entire afternoon, when he threw a beautifully placed touchdown ball to All-American Marqise Lee for a 29-yard touchdown.

– Speaking of Lee, yeah, he’s still really, insanely, overwhelmingly good. The junior All-American finished the afternoon with eight catches for 148 yards and three touchdowns. Frankly, the guy was simply a man amongst boys on Saturday and clearly the best player on the field.

– Back to the quarterback race, where Browne had an efficient 7 of 11 passing day for 80 yards with both a touchdown and interception.

Still, for those expecting Browne to pull a Matt Barkley in 2009 and open up the 2013 season as a true freshman starter, it seems unlikely. Not only did Browne look to be a step behind Kessler and Wittek from a strictly football perspective, but undoubtedly was from a physical development perspective also. Simply put, the kid needs to add some bulk in the weight room before there is any discussion of him seeing the field.

– Beyond Lee, two guys stood out above all else on the offense: Sophomore wide receiver Nelson Agohlor and tight end Victor Blackwell.

In terms of Agholor, well, I’m thinking we may see him in a Percy Harvin-ish type role next season for the Trojans. That’s not to say that he has the talent of Harvin (because really, who does?), but the former five-star prospect does seem capable of beating defenses in more than one way. In addition to catching a number of nice balls (and picking up the subsequent yardage after those catches), Agholor also had a nice run on an end-around too.

As for Blackwell, well, crap, where the hell did that guy come from? He finished the afternoon with seven catches for 155 yards and left about 2,000 fans in the stands wondering “Why the heck didn’t we use THAT guy more last year?”

– In what became all too common a trend last season, the Trojans’ run game was essentially non-existent Saturday. Tre Madden the only real player of note with eight rushes for 23 yards, while Justin Davis and Buck Allen struggled to find any running lanes themselves.  

Understand that while the defense got the brunt of the blame for last year’s struggles, the offensive line quietly flew under the radar as one of the most overrated and underperforming in college football.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t look like it’ll be any better heading into 2013.

– And finally to the defense.

With tackling out of the equation Saturday, it was hard to tell much of anything with the defense or how new coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 scheme worked.

In terms of standouts, it was essentially the guys you’d expect. In specific, Morgan Breslin finished the afternoon with three sacks and defensive back Demetrius Wright with two interceptions. Early enrollee freshman Kenny Bigelow had a nice effort with two sacks himself.

However, like the offensive line, last year’s inefficiencies crept up on defense too.

Specifically the defensive backfield looked lost at times, with both Lee and Agohlor routinely getting behind them for big gains.

For all his insight, analysis and opinion, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres

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About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.