This was a decision whose time had come, and only time will tell if it came too late. USC coach Lane Kiffin tried to walk a high-wire act through the first two games by alternating quarterbacks in the hopes of finding a clear starter, but the results have not been impressive. In fact, the experiment produced the lowest passing totals the Trojans have seen in 15 years.
The Trojans threw the ball for 54 yards against the Washington State Cougars in a 10-7 loss last weekend, with the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee accounting for only 27 yards. The receiver on the other side of Lee -- explosive sophomore Nelson Agholor -- didn't have any catches at all. It was all part of an anemic offensive night for the Trojans that resulted in boos from the Coliseum crowd and calls for the firing of the coach.
You have to remember, this is a coach in Kiffin who prides himself on his offensive play-calling skills. There had been some question in the offseason about whether he needed to turn the play calling over to another coach on the staff, but Kiffin elected to keep those duties "in the best interest of the team."
USC athletic director Pat Haden even pointed to Kiffin's "dynamic" play calling as a key reason the coach has had Haden's vocal support. Through the first two games, and with the struggles of the offense, Kiffin has not exactly made Haden look good on that one.
Since there is no indication that Kiffin is looking to make a change on play calling, the one major thing he could have done to attempt to turn the tide from what happened against Washington State is to finally name a starter at quarterback. It remains to be seen how much this decision will help, but it was pretty clear the indecision was not helping either Kessler or Max Wittek, or the offense as a whole.
There's a reason the quarterback spot is seen as such a valuable position within the offense, and much of that comes from a point of leadership. The quarterback is the one calling the plays in the huddle, the player all the other players are looking in the eye to see the confidence he projects. If that quarterback is worried that a mistake means he will be coming out of the game, or if he feels a need to press because his reps are limited, the results can be damaging to an offense. In the case of the Trojans so far this year, that certainly appears to have been the case.
Now that a starter has been named, however, there is one important thing that Kiffin needs to do. He needs to trust his quarterback. He needs to make sure Kessler knows he is the guy. It has been noticeable so far this year that Kiffin hasn't allowed Kessler to do much in the way of downfield passing. Kessler showed through spring ball and fall camp scrimmages that he has the ability and arm strength to make the throws, and Kiffin needs to put him in those positions. Nobody is saying Kessler needs to air it out all over the field, but he shouldn't be limited as much as we've seen in the first two games.
The stakes are high on this one for Kiffin. The USC fans expressed their feelings last week loud and clear, and that reaction gives a certain suddenness to the next two games. Both games are at home against opponents the Trojans are expected to beat, and the Coliseum crowd will be watching closely, because their patience clearly has worn thin. Kiffin needs this move to work, and work quickly, in order to validate his handling of the situation. As if Cody Kessler didn't have enough to worry about with his new job.