After months of taking part in a highly publicized position battle with Max Wittek -- one that dragged into the first two weeks of the 2013 season -- Cody Kessler was named the Trojans’ starting quarterback, something that on Tuesday the 6-foot-1 and 215-pound redshirt sophomore likened to receiving “the keys to the car.”
Upon hearing the news, Kessler sent a text to his father, Donnie Kessler.
“I texted him and said, ‘It’s go time.’”
For Kessler, it’s the realization of a dream for which he’s worked tirelessly. And now, just a couple of days in, the Bakersfield (Calif.) Centennial product already admits to feeling a renewed sense of comfort in his newfound role.
“It was very exciting news for me, and I was very happy about it,” Kessler said. “It’s just a whole new set of confidence, knowing that you’re the guy. These last few days of practice have been awesome.”
Coming off a stunning 10-7 defeat to Washington State this past weekend, Kiffin and Co. are making the move with the hopes that it will add some much-needed stability -- not to mention provide a desperately needed shot in the arm -- to an offense that currently ranks No. 112 nationally in passing yards (113 ypg) and No. 97 in points scored (18.5 ppg).
“We expect Cody to play great on Saturday … to really take charge of this offense, and to get us back on track,” Kiffin said. “Cody manages situations that nobody outside of our team would see … whether that’s audibles, whether that’s things in the huddle … getting things fixed [and] getting people aligned.”
Kessler has shown that ability before, albeit primarily in practice settings. Making a name for himself this past spring as well as in fall camp with some impressive scrimmage performances, he, along with Wittek, struggled in the first two games of the season while splitting reps. Appearing unsure and handcuffed at times by what appeared to be a conservative game plan, Kessler was out-of-whack against Washington State, completing 8-of-13 passes for 41 yards with one rushing touchdown while also throwing one interception that was returned for a touchdown. The Trojans amassed just 54 passing yards -- the lowest since 1998. But with the job now his, Kessler believes that he’s ready to turn the corner.
“I don’t mean to use it as an excuse at all, but at the same time, those first two weeks … it’s tough to focus on winning a game when you’re still thinking you’re competing for a spot,” said Kessler, who is 18 of 32 passing for 136 yards and one touchdown with two picks on the season. “I think I’ve been trying to be too perfect, and trying to win the job more than the game …. Now that I don’t have that popping up in my head, it will impact my play. … It’s just a new sense of confidence for me.”
Kessler’s first task will be getting USC in the win column and getting the passing game on track.
“My sole focus is on the team, and getting better, because like I said after the game on Saturday, the way that the offense played is not USC football,” Kessler said. “And everybody was booing and getting on us in the crowd, but they had the right to do that … we didn’t play like we should have, and we need to get better for that not to happen again.”
For their part, Kessler’s teammates have embraced the announcement and rallied behind him, appearing to be just as happy as everyone else that the Trojans can now move forward with one established leader behind center.
“It’s been great,” Kessler said. “All the guys on offense and defense have been coming up to me and they’re like, ‘We know you’re ready’ and ‘You know it’s your job, so now you can play like we know you can.’ ”
Kessler will get his first chance to prove his teammates right this Saturday at home against 2-0 Boston College -- an opportunity he’s more than ready for.
“I think it’s kind of a new start,” Kessler said, “and I’m ready to take this role and run with it.”