Cody Kessler and Nelson Agholor had a Maverick and Goose moment after a spectacular aerial show at the Coliseum. (photo credit Lisa Horne)
by Lisa Horne
Los Angeles—The Trojans thrashed the Fresno State Bulldogs 52-13 in front of an announced crowd of 76,037 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.
Nine freshmen played in USC's opening drive. N-I-N-E.
Think some highly-recruited high school senior prospects noticed?
No redshirts for you, youngsters—get in there and play. And have some fun while you're at it.
John "JuJu" Smith led the Trojan receiver corps with four catches and 123 yards. Darreus Rogers had five catches for 60 yards and Adoree' Jackson had three catches for 36 yards and one touchdown. They are all freshmen.
JuJu Smith was surrounded by reporters after the game. (photo credit Lisa Horne)
Smith, a 5-star receiver out of Long Beach Poly High, expected some playing time but said he "wasn't expecting" this type of performance.
Neither were the fans.
Quarterback Cody Kessler had a shaky start. His first pass was almost picked off for a sure touchdown. After that, Kessler was nails. The mobile quarterback went 25-of-37 for 394 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 30 yards and one touchdown.
After the game, Kessler told me that the playbook had barely been cracked open. "We only ran about 10 plays," he said.
"There's more?" I asked incredulously. Kessler just smiled. I thought he may have winked.
Kessler also dismissed any knee injury rumors. Kessler got up a little awkwardly after a poorly executed slide late in the game. He admitted his slide needed work but also explained why it looked awkward—his knee brace had gotten caught in the grass.
Two freshman offensive linemen also impressed. Right guard Damian Mama was hard to miss. Mama is listed at 6' 5", 370 pounds. He looked bigger. He blew open holes for Javorius "Buck" Allen, Justin Davis and James Toland IV. Allen rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown. Toland and James rushed for 38 and 30, respectively.
Left guard Toa Lobendahn was partially responsible for Kessler's blind side. A combination of outstanding pass protection from the line and great pocket awareness by Kessler contributed to him avoiding a sack. USC's line is one of three Pac-12 teams who remain perfect in sacks allowed.
Freshman tight end Bryce Dixon only had one catch for 22 yards but it was a touchdown. Dixon also played on defense and special teams.
The freshmen weren't the only stars of the game.
Junior receiver Nelson Agholor had a couple of highlight reel-worthy catches. In the first quarter, Agholor caught a 10-yard pass at the goal line and then pulled out a wrestling move against a Fresno State defender for the touchdown.
In the second quarter, Kessler made a spin move to avoid a sack and hit Agholor with a 34-yard pass. Agholor bobbled the ball up in the air but showing remarkable concentration, caught the ball as he was falling to the turf. ESPN tabbed that catch as one of the best plays of week 1 (click here for video). Agholor would finish the day with 57 yards and two touchdowns.
Cody Kessler was all smiles after the game. (photo credit Lisa Horne)
USC's offense racked up 105 plays, 37 first downs and 702 yards. The Trojans are ranked fourth in the nation in total offense. The 52-13 drubbing was Fresno State's "worst season-opening loss in program history," according to the Fresno Bee's Bryant-Jon Anteola.
"Clearly, we're not ready to compete at this point of the season with a team like that," Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter told Anteola.
The Trojan defense set the tone early. After one quarter of play, Fresno State had 46 total yards and zero first downs. At the half, the Bulldogs were 1-of-8 in third down conversions—USC was 9-of-12.
Four different Trojans had interceptions including defensive end Leonard Williams. USC finished with a 2.00 turnover margin, the nation's fourth-best.
"That was fun," Sarkisian said in the postgame media conference.
Never having to punt the ball in a game should be the very definition of "fun." Stanford—who beat FCS school U.C. Davis 45-0 in its opener—did not have as much fun as USC. The Cardinal punted four times.
L—R: punter Kris Albarado, kicker Alex Wood, kicker Andre Heidari and snapper Zach Smith liked watching the replays on the Coliseum's jumbo widescreen. (photo credit Lisa Horne)
Fresno State is not a Stanford and USC is no U.C. Davis. The two clash next week in Palo Alto. One of those team's playoff dreams will likely be crushed on Saturday.
While USC fans are still abuzz with a postgame glow, that may be short-lived.
Or maybe the fun is just starting.
Injury report: tight end Chris Wilson suffered a broken foot, per Sarkisian.