It has been a season filled with as much drama as any team could want, including the rare September firing of a coach. Yet through it all for the Trojans there has remained the calm figure of first-year starting quarterback Cody Kessler.
It’s time to start recognizing the role Kessler has played in keeping the Trojans moving forward through a tumultuous first two months of the season, especially when you consider that he was forced to wait three weeks into the season before officially being named the starter in the first place.
There has been so much attention paid to interim coach Ed Orgeron for his role in charge of the program -- and deservedly so -- but even Orgeron has acknowledged the job that Kessler has done.
“I just like the style in which he plays,” Orgeron said in his Sunday night media call. “It’s his tenacity, his moxie, his leadership. He’s got some stuff to him that I really like in a quarterback, all the intangibles, the way he wants to win … he’s very competitive. Our guys believe in him.”
Orgeron mentioned the pick-6 that Kessler threw last Friday against Oregon State. It was not a good throwing decision -- Kessler would be the first to say so -- but the resolve that Kessler and the offense showed on the next drive was noticeable. The Trojans went on a 10-play drive, eight of those plays on the ground, to score a touchdown and seize back the momentum. The drive displayed leadership from Kessler but the sophomore will be the first to deflect credit back to his teammates.
"I was forced into that leadership position and to take control,” Kessler said. “It was great the way my defensive teammates supported me when I got to the sideline after that throw, it was awesome. It's a great supporting cast and it's awesome to have that camaraderie.”
Kessler has not been above mistakes during his nine-game stint as a starter. There have been six interceptions -- including two that were returned for touchdowns -- and he still holds the ball too long to satisfy some USC fans. But as Orgeron noted, there is just something about Kessler’s moxie. He has taken a beating so far behind an offensive line that has been finding its way and he doesn’t know which skill players are going to be available from one week to the next due to injuries.
Even with all that, Kessler has completed 139 of 221 throws (63 percent) for 1,807 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has made plays with his arm and legs, the scramble near the goal line late in the game against Notre Dame would have been memorable had not there not been a penalty on the play. And almost as important as any of that was speech in gave in support of Orgeron in the media session after the Arizona game.
"You want a coach that you would go to war for every time,” Kessler said at the time. “And this guy here to my right, and I don't just speak for myself, we would go to war for him. When you can not only see but feel how much he loves us, it’s awesome.”
When you see little signs like that it makes you remember how important the quarterback position can be to a team. Even with all the sideways turns this season has already taken, Kessler has kept things going and the Trojans are now positioned to make a run at the Pac-12 South berth in the conference title game.
Kessler has been a solid player on the field for the Trojans this year, one who will likely improve even more as his career goes along, but he’s already showing some of the strongest intangible traits he will need to succeed at his position when it comes to being a leader of the program.