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2013 review: USC offense

12/23/2013

With a new starting quarterback at the helm, a slew of injuries depleting an already thin depth chart and a highly publicized coaching carousel, the production of the USC offense was largely up and down in 2013 with the Trojans averaging a pedestrian 29.7 points per game, while converting just 35 percent on third-down plays.

Still, part of a USC squad that finished 10-4, this is a unit that made strides throughout the course of the season. It’s safe to say that it certainly had more than its share of shining moments.

Quarterback

Splitting time with fellow third-year sophomore Max Wittek in the Trojans’ first two games, Cody Kessler took the reins as USC’s full-time starting quarterback in Week 3 and never looked back. Establishing himself as a team leader, the Bakersfield (Calif.) Centennial product put up solid numbers, completing 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

Although he struggled periodically to direct the offense downfield on sustained drives, his performance was affected, in part, by an offensive line that was inconsistent in pass protection, a wide receiver group that was ravaged by injuries and a game plan that appeared overly conservative at times -- particularly under Lane Kiffin.

Following Kiffin’s dismissal, however, Kessler's numbers improved, and he capped his season off by throwing for a career-high 345 yards and four touchdowns in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State.

Running Back

Under the tutelage of Tommie Robinson, the tailbacks emerged as the star group of the offense, helping the Trojans compile an average of 172.8 yards per game on the ground.

Tre Madden began the season as the No. 1 back, and along with freshman Justin Davis formed an impressive 1-2 punch, with Madden going over the 100-yard plateau in four of the Trojans’ first five contests. But both players would eventually go down, with Madden suffering a hamstring injury in Week 6 that would linger throughout the remaining schedule, and Davis heading to the sideline with a season-ending ankle injury against Notre Dame.

2013 was supposed to be Silas Redd’s year to shine. But after tearing the meniscus in his knee last spring, the senior never appeared to get back to 100 percent, and he played in just six games -- although he did eclipse the century mark against both the Fighting Irish and Oregon State. With so much attrition, Javorius “Buck” Allen -- a little-used third-year sophomore -- finally got the chance that he’d been waiting for and he more than made the most of it. Showcasing big-play ability and a ton of heart, the team MVP finished with a USC-best 785 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.

Freshman Ty Isaac, a hulking 6-foot-3 and 225-pound physical specimen, also showed promise.

At fullback Jahleel Pinner began the season as the starter, but Soma Vainuku eventually regained his spot and played the best football of his career. A bruiser known for his talents as a lead blocker, it was the development of his receiving skills that impressed most. He also made a name for himself on special teams, coming up with a number of big hits on the kickoff team, while also blocking three punts.

Receivers and Tight Ends

No unit was more decimated by injuries than the Trojans’ wide receiver corps, and it played a major role in the efficiency of the passing attack, which averaged just 227.1 yards per game.

With George Farmer and Steven Mitchell out before the season even began, the five remaining scholarship wideouts all had various nicks and bruises. Marqise Lee, the returning Biletnikoff Award winner, suffered shoulder and knee injuries that prevented him from performing anywhere close to the level that he did a year ago, although he still led the team with 57 grabs. Now in the midst of deciding whether to declare for the NFL draft, the junior out of Gardena (Calif.) Serra came up with a seven-catch, 118-yard, two-touchdown performance in the season finale.

Nelson Agholor built upon a strong freshman campaign by hauling in 56 passes. Possessing unique game-breaking skills, he also returned two punts for scores against California. Darreus Rogers, a big and physical option, had 22 receptions and looks poised to break out in 2014.

Veterans De’Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell also got in the act, combining for 13 catches, while walk-ons like Robby Kolanz, George Katrib and Cody Skene also saw significant action.

The tight ends weren’t immune from the injury bug but this group did start to come alive late, particularly Xavier Grimble. Utilized with greater frequency once Ed Orgeron and then Clay Helton took over as coach, Grimble finished No. 3 on the team with 25 receptions, including 10 over his last three games. Randall Telfer gutted it out despite being hampered by a hobbled knee all season, with Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick gaining valuable experience. Shane Sullivan, Chris Willson and converted-lineman Nathan Guertler also made major contributions, with outside linebacker/tight end Kevin Greene also providing depth.

Offensive Line

Kiffin brought in offensive line coach Mike Summers to team with James Cregg in an attempt to elevate this unit’s play, but many of the issues that plagued the linemen a year ago still existed in 2013.

With a primary starting group that included Chad Wheeler at left tackle, Max Tuerk at left guard, Marcus Martin at center, Aundrey Walker at right guard, and Kevin Graf at right tackle, they allowed a regular-season average of 2.54 sacks per game -- the No. 96 mark in the nation. They did do a better job of run blocking, paving the way for a ground attack that averaged 4.5 yards per carry.

Martin, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, was the standout of the group, after beginning his transition from guard to center just last December. He and Walker missed the team’s bowl game due to injury, allowing seniors Abe Markowitz and John Martinez to start, with Markowitz earning offensive outperformer of the game honors.