LOS ANGELES — Cody Kessler threw four touchdown passes and ran for a fifth score as USC overcame off-the-field distractions during the runup to the game and routed Fresno State, 52-13, last Saturday in Steve Sarkisian’s debut as the Trojans’ head coach.
The Trojans will step up the level of competition this week when they travel to Palo Alto to play the Stanford Cardinal Saturday at 12:30 p.m. In this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Cardinal are ranked 13th and the Trojans are 14th. The game will be televised on ABC7.
Operating a new up-tempo, no-huddle offense, USC set a Pacific-12 Conference record with 105 plays, gained 701 yards and scored touchdowns on each of its first three possessions before a crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum announced at 76,037.
“That was fun,” Sarkisian said. “We executed really well in all three phases. There are probably a couple of things we want to have back, but all in all for our first game together, in new systems and new schemes, I really don’t think we could have asked for more.”
Sarkisian said he thought his team would get “a decent number of plays,” in part because the Bulldogs also use a no-huddle offense.
“The best way to get plays is by extending drives and what really helped that was our ability to convert on third down,” Sarkisian said.
The Trojans successfully converted each of their first eight third down opportunities and were 11 for 18 for the game.
Kessler completed 25 of 37 passes for a career-high 394 yards over three quarters before a crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum announced at 76,037.
The previous career high for Kessler, a redshirt junior, was 345 yards against Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Dec. 21.
The Trojans outgained the Bulldogs, 702-315, led 37-16 in first downs and 38:54-21:06 in time of possession.
“Well obviously we didn’t come ready to play to beat an excellent team like USC,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We got out-coached and out-played. You also have to give them a lot of credit. At times, we got into a really good rhythm, but we couldn’t sustain it.”
The Trojans didn’t punt, with seven touchdowns and a 27-yard second-quarter field goal by Andre Heidari in their 14 possessions.
USC lost two fumbles, turned the ball over on downs twice in the fourth quarter, had the ball when the game ended and Heidari missed a 39-yard field goal in the second quarter.
The victory was the Trojans’ 17th straight in season openers.
Fresno State got both its touchdowns from Marteze Waller on a one-yard run in the second quarter and a two-yard run on the first drive of the second half.
USC opened the game with a 17-play, 90-yard drive that consumed six minutes, 19 seconds. Kessler completed five of nine passes for 98 yards on the drive, including an 18-yard pass to Darreus Rogers, two plays before Kessler’s one-yard touchdown run.
Kessler completed four of five passes for 60 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor on the Trojans’ second drive.
The quarterback began USC’s third drive by completing a 53-yard pass to JuJu Smith, advancing the ball to Fresno State’s 32-yard line. After Javorius Allen ran the ball to the Bulldogs’ 12-yard line, Agholor notched his second TD on a five-yard pass from Kessler.
Kessler’s 18-yard touchdown pass to freshman Adoree’ Jackson with 53 seconds left in the first half increased USC’s lead to 31-7.
In the third quarter, Allen ran nine yards for a touchdown, Kessler threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Dixon and Soma Vainuku ran 11 yards for a touchdown.