Cody Kessler poised for big game versus Stanford
The USC Trojans have easily gotten through their first two games of the season. Idaho and Arkansas State did not stand much of a chance in these encounters. In Week 3, the Trojans finally get a Pac-12 test against the Stanford Cardinal.
Their matchup with Stanford provides a real setting to evaluate just how good USC is, particularly their quarterback. Cody Kessler has been highly touted and his numbers last year as well as this year (+3.2 overall grade for 2015) back it up. But this year’s numbers have been inflated due to playing weak opponents in the first two weeks: He is 45-of-57 for 650 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. The only thing that has gone sideways for him is surrendering five sacks against Arkansas State in Week 1.
His timing and precision were much cleaner in Week 2, but the defensive looks he was getting would make most QBs stand out. Idaho’s defense was playing incredibly soft on the outside and the Trojans took full advantage. Of Kessler’s 31 pass attempts against Idaho, he was 10-for-12 with throws inside of 10 yards, and was 12-of-13 with passes behind the line of scrimmage. That is 22-for-25 on attempts below 10 yards that provided a massive stat boost (two receivers had over 70 YAC for the Trojans). The windows he was throwing to were wide open, as shown below.
These throws are expected completions, but with as many attempts as Kessler had under 10 yards you can see how these numbers quickly get inflated. However, there have been plays where he has been able to stretch the field and show off his arm talent. In Week 1 against Arkansas State, he was not able to capitalize on his deep throws, going 0-for-4 on throws over 20 yards.
Intermediate throws are where Kessler was able to display his talent in that game, going 4-for-6 on throws between 10-19 yards. The deep ball was much better against Idaho. He went 3-for-4 on throws over 20 yards, and some, like this one, were pretty.
Kessler needs to be able to make these throws to stretch the field and off-set all the bubble screens and short throws that are often a part of college offenses. The speed at which he was getting the ball out against Idaho was a good sign for Trojan fans. After getting sacked five times in Week 1, a marked improvement in reads, detail, and footwork was needed, and Kessler came through.
The Stanford defense plays a much different style than the first two opponents for USC. They are aggressive, yet sound. They are rarely out-leveraged on bubble screens and by formation alignments. They also know how to disguise and rotate at the snap, hiding man concepts and zone concepts. The windows to throw to against the Stanford defense are pretty small for the college level. If Kessler has become accustomed to big windows and gets uncomfortable throwing with some anticipation, he could be in for a long day filled with pressure.
Stanford is a large step up in talent for USC to showcase their team early this season. The Trojans’ run game will be a big factor in keeping Stanford off balance, but at the end of the day the game will likely come down to the play of Kessler. The easy throws and stat-padding bubble screens will not be nearly as useful and he will be forced to stretch the field as well as convert on big third downs with intermediate throws. The progress he shows making these throws into tighter coverage with little hesitation will go a long way in showcasing what kind of talent Kessler is for the Trojans, but based on his production last year and his improvements from Week 1 to Week 2, it looks like he is ready for the challenge.