Here are five takeaways from the Trojans 55-6 victory over Arkansas State in the season opener at the Coliseum.
1. Nice to have depth again
After several seasons of reduced roster depth due to NCAA sanctions, the Trojans took advantage of increased depth by substituting early and often while rarely seeing any drop-off in production. Nowhere was this more evident than in the fact that 23 players were making their USC debut in the game, including 13 true freshman. These included players such as Cameron Smith, who tied for the team lead in tackles (seven) and was the first true freshman to start at inside linebacker for the Trojans since Riki Gray (Ellison) in 1978. Others who saw action for the first time were Osa Masina, who returned a fumble off a backwards pass 46 yards for a touchdown, and tailback Ronald Jones, who dazzled the crowd with a 44-yard touchdown dash which showcased his impressive speed.
2. Contained running quarterback
One of the issues for the USC defense, going back to when Pete Carroll was coach, has been troubles when facing mobile quarterbacks. Arkansas State quarterback Fredi Knighten presented similar problems -- he ran for 11 scores last year -- but the Trojans held him to 58 yards on 14 carries and generally played good assignment defense against him all night. This is particularly notable with the fact that the Trojans did substitute so much, and with so many younger players. More important than any actual rushing number is the fact that USC held the Red Wolves offense to six points, the lowest point total for Arkansas State since 2008.
3. Sacks on Cody Kessler
As with most any season opener, there were issues for USC coach Steve Sarkisian to work on with his team and one of the big ones for the Trojans following this game will be the fact that Kessler was sacked five times in the game. It was a solid production night overall for the offense with 509 total yards and 55 points but the fact that the Heisman candidate quarterback spent that much time under duress will be a point of emphasis as the Trojans move forward through the rest of the season.
4. Winning the turnover battle
One of the major offseason goals for Sarkisian was to improve on the turnover margin for the Trojans, and USC was able to force four turnovers while committing none. Chris Hawkins, who started at safety and also played cornerback in the game, had an interception and a fumble recovery that was caused by Jabari Ruffin. Su’a Cravens had an interception, the eighth of his USC career, and Masina had the recovered backwards pass for a score.
5. Status of Adoree’ Jackson
Versatile USC star Adoree’ Jackson got the start at corner, saw time at receiver and was the return man for both kickoffs and punts, but he left the game in the first quarter after one punt return when he suffered an injury. Jackson was not hit on the play, he described feeling a “tweak” as he headed upfield, and did not return due to what was called an abdominal strain. Jackson said he would have gone back in if the game was close, and he sent out a Twitter post after the game in an attempt to let USC fans know he was OK.
We All Good Trojan Fam #FightOn
— SWEET PEA (@AdoreeKnows) September 6, 2015