It was never a contest nor was it expected to be. Saturday, September 12 was a long night for the Idaho Vandals as the USC Trojans had their way with their second Sun Belt conference opponent in two weeks. This was a game where the Trojans had 35 first downs, 737 yards to the Vandals’ 19 first downs and 311 yards. It was also a game that left players and fans alike rubbing their hands in anticipation of next weeks’ PAC-12 matchup with the Stanford University Cardinal.
The win against the Vandals moved the Men of Troy up to the number six spot in the Associated Press media poll, and to number seven in the coaches’ poll. It was a night where “every eligible player got to play,” said head Coach Steve Sarkisian. “I thought our guys came in really focused, and played with great energy. I thought their effort was good. I thought they were into the game and executed well.”
In an effort to improve his timing on the long ball, Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler proved that practice does make perfect. Kessler lead the team to victory, throwing for a career high of 410 yards, three touchdowns, and completing 26 of 31 passes.
Tailback Justin Davis made a roaring return after missing the season opener with a rib injury, scoring on a two-yard run within the first two minutes of the game. Loaded at the tailback position, the superb Davis finished the night with five carries for 74 yards, and two touchdowns.
Running back Tre Madden continued his scoring prowess, on a seven-yard run in the second quarter, his second touchdown of the season and minutes later, on a 10-yard run with 5:45 left in the second quarter for a total of seven carries for 40 yards.
It was Adoree’ Jackson who provided the games’ most exciting moment as he cut and weaved seemingly at will through the Vandals defense, setting up the first field goal by Alex Wood. Wood converted from 24 yards with 22 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Vandals finally got in the end zone during the third quarter with a pass from quarterback Matt Linehan to tight end Buck Cowan on a 10-yard touchdown pass. Junior college transfer Isaac Whitney recovered from his shoving match with fellow SC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster during last weeks practice to catch his first 28-yard touchdown pass with 7:57 minutes left in the third quarter.
Sophomore receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster connected with Kessler for 10 catches, and two touchdowns, 50 and 41 yards respectively. “Cody told me, every time you go deep, I’ll put it in the air. All you’ve got to do is run under it,” Smith-Schuster said.
The Kessler to Smith-Schuster connection pleased Sarkisian who said, “Cody was better tonight than last week.” “I thought he was decisive in his reads, and I loved that he threw the ball deep. His accuracy down the field was much better.” Kessler, the 135th Trojan to appear on the west cover of Sports Illustrated (September issue), said, “last week, we improved a ton…our biggest thing in practice all week was knowing that we’ve hit those plays a million times.”
Freshman running back Ronald Jones II continued his fearless play, scoring on a one-yard run in the fourth quarter, his second touchdown in two games. In a game where there was much improvement all around, the offensive line showed great improvement after allowing five sacks in the first half against Arkansas State. This time the line did not allow one sack….not one. Coach Sarkisian lauded the efforts of the offensive line saying, “I thought the offensive line was much improved. The communication was better and the run game was cleaner.”
Sarkisian acknowledged that there was still work to be done especially on third down conversions. Last week, the Trojans were three for ten and this week, one for six. “We are going to need to convert these third downs to extend drives and season and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be this season. We are going to need it next week against a team that likes to hold onto the ball.” The Trojans will face the Stanford University Cardinal, Saturday, September 19, 5pm, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
In other PAC-12 news:
UCLA defeated UNLV, 37 – 3
Stanford defeated UCF, 31 – 7
Michigan defeated Oregon State, 35 – 7
Arizona defeated Nevada, 44 – 20
California defeated San Diego State, 35 – 7
Arizona State defeated Cal Poly, 35 – 21
Washington State defeated Rutgers, 37 – 34
Washington defeated Sacramento State, 49 – 0
Colorado defeated University of Massachusetts, 48 – 14
Associated Press Poll, Week 3, Top 10