USC Grades: Defense shines

Cody Kessler struggled early against Hawaii. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

HONOLULU – The USC Trojans came to Hawaii without a solid starting quarterback and left without a solid starting quarterback. Despite beating Hawaii 30-13 to start the season 1-0, USC is no closer to picking a starting quarterback now than they were when they began fall camp nearly a month ago.

Here's a report card for the Trojans:


Cody Kessler got the start but certainly didn't look like a starting quarterback against Hawaii. Kessler, who had an impressive fall camp, looked completely lost on the field at times as he finished 10-of-19 for 95 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Max Wittek played all but the opening series of the second half and was 5-of-10 for 77 yards and didn't throw a touchdown or an interception. Neither quarterback separated themselves from the pack and it's likely they both will split time again next week.


With Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan unable to make the trip to Hawaii, Tre Madden and Justin Davis got the bulk of the carries and didn't miss a beat. Madden got the start and had 109 yard on 19 carries while Davis had 74 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries. As a team USC had 192 yards on 36 carries and one touchdown.


USC's offensive line didn't give their quarterbacks much time to throw the ball and were unable to do much in the red zone as USC had to settle for two field goals inside the 10-yard line. The Trojans did run the ball well late, but their pass defense needs to get shorn up. USC's defensive line was strong as the front seven was in Hawaii's backfield nearly the entire game, finishing with six sacks.


There was a lot of hype about USC's "52" defense under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and it certainly lived up to it on Thursday night. USC's defense had four interceptions for the first time since 2005, recorded seven sacks and 20 of the 30 points USC scored came directly or indirectly from the defense.


Andre Heidari's 52-yard field goal to close the first half was a career long and tied for the fourth longest in USC history and was USC's longest since Quin Rodriguez had a 54-yarder in 1990 against Michigan State in the Sun Bowl. Heidari hit all three of his field goal attempts. Kris Albarado averaged 43.3 yards on his six punts and had a long of 64 yards. Marqise Lee wasn't able to get anything going in the return game with two punt returns for 8 yards and one fumble.


Lane Kiffin will be the first to admit this wasn't a solid start to the season for the Trojans and a less than ideal debut for his two quarterbacks. His inability to be decisive in picking a starting quarterback has made the starting job a carousel for the time being and his play calling on offense was questionable at best at times as USC continued to dink and dunk every time they had the ball.