USC-Hawaii First Half Notes

-defense looks fantastic to start, doesn’t allow a single play for positive yards; Dion Bailey gets the sack, aided by Devon Kennard, who makes an impact in his first game in 2 years (missing the 2012 season with a torn pectoral muscle)

-Tre Madden impresses in the Trojans’ first offensive series, with 2 carries for 8 yards; Cody Kessler’s first pass comes after a false start on third down, converting a short pass to Nelson Agholor for 16 yards to move the chains–in comparison to Max Wittek, Kessler has the weaker arm strength, so these types of throws are essential if Kessler intends to hold on to the starting job

-these are the kinds of incomprehensible play-calls that have Lane Kiffin on the hot seat: it’s 4th and 4 on Hawaii’s 26-yard line, and the Trojans elect to pass–is Andre Heidari playing with a broken leg, and Kiffin’s just not telling us?; there’s no reason not to attempt the 43-yard field goal at this point

-the defense does it again on the first play of Hawaii’s drive, this time producing an even more enticing result: an interception by touted, true freshman Su’a Cravens

-once again, Kessler displays the efficiency the SC offense is capable of through stringing together short passes, this time to tight end Xavier Grimble out of the backfield; he later continues his high-percentage passes by slinging it to fullback Jahleel Pinner

-Tre Madden has showed why he’s starting this game, totaling 25 yards in the Trojans’ first two offensive series; unfortunately, he hits a standstill at the goal line, resulting in a Heidari field goal–a play call that is comforting considering Kiffin’s delusional tendencies near the goal line

-the Warriors finally convert a first down on their 3rd drive of the game; Kennard gets a tackle for loss, further exemplifying the potential he has as leader of this defense

-although Hawaii gets another first down through the air, the Trojan defense holds them off on the next set of downs; I initially disapproved of moving once-linebacker Dion Bailey to safety, but after only 2 sacks in the 1st quarter and explosive rushes from strong safety blitzes, it looks like the move will pay off for SC; of course, Bailey does this all while playing through a hip injury that made him a gametime decision

-Kessler seems restrained by Kiffin’s play-calling, and after getting one of his passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, Max Wittek–who’s three inches taller than Kessler–might see his first opportunity soon; penalty woes are starting to build on the Trojan offense

-Hawaii luckily gets a 19-yard gain on a reverse run, but the tide turns SC’s way once again as Trojan pass rushers swarm the Hawaii backfield, quickly culminating in a Leonard Williams sack for an 8-yard loss; the Warriors get 15 yards back on a passing screen play, but can’t convert for a first down on a 3rd-and-2 play

-an Australian punter pins USC on its own 1 yard line, and one play later, the Hawaiian pass rushers plow past the Trojan offensive line for a safety; Kessler was not exactly too aware of his situation, freely taking up time while standing in his own end zone–it’s a baseball score, with USC leading  3-2, and Wittek should get his chance next series

-the kickoff punt is returned to USC’s 41 yard line; the Warriors face a 4th-and-1, but with clearly possessing the momentum at this point, they convert on a running play between the tackles

-the Trojan defense does enough to only hold Hawaii to a field goal, meaning USC experiences its first deficit of the year, now trailing 5-3; considering all 5 of Hawaii’s point have essentially come off the offense’s blunder, the defense has unmistakably asserted itself as the strong point of this USC team

-whatever happened to testing out both quarterbacks on offense?–at this point, Kiffin seems set on keeping Kessler in, and so far, that has been to the offense’s detriment: the offense has not converted a first down in 13:05, and Kessler has had three of his passes batted down; furthermore, All-American Marqise Lee has not caught a pass thus far

-the USC defense quickly gets its struggling offensive teammates back on the field after forcing a three-and-out by Hawaii

-the big play comes at last for USC, in the form of Tre Madden’s 34-yard burst downfield; yet it’s quickly negated by a Kessler pass, going to no one in particular, that results in an interception–Kiffin’s mistake of leaving Kessler in the game too long is finally vividly established

-Lamar Dawson continues his excellent performance today, catching a Warrior runner in the backfield for a loss; and out of nowhere, USC suffers its first loss–cornerback Anthony Brown needs to be helped off the field (a position where there’s poor depth)

-Kennard supplies the pressure on Hawaii’s quarterback, fighting through the Warrior offensive line, and linebacking leader Hayes Pullard gets an interception, the Trojans’ second of the game

-on the following USC offensive series, the Trojans need a 4th-down QB sneak by Kessler to move the chains, after Madden gets 9 and a half yards

-looks like Kiffin has been vindicated in his decision to not shift quarterbacks, as Kessler lofts a beautiful pass to the left-side of the end zone, reeled in by Nelson Agholor; this is a great sign for Kessler’s progression through this game, as he seeks to establish a better rhythm and more comfort; also note that while Lee attracts all the attention for the wideout corps, Agholor is very talented as well

-USC’s front 7 stuffs the Hawaiian offense until the Warriors convert on a 3rd-and-7 through the air–an established weak point in the Trojan defense

( Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / August 29, 2013 ) Josh Shaw returns an interception for a touchdown.

Josh Shaw returns an interception for a touchdown. ( Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / August 29, 2013 )

-and just like that, the Trojans grab a 17-5 lead after cornerback Josh Shaw snatches a pick that he returns back for the touchdown; the momentum has violently shifted USC’s way, far cry from the game’s feel earlier in the 2nd quarter

-the next series for Hawaii results in a three-and-out, after George Uko–who has converted from defense tackle to defensive end this year–smacks Hawaii’s quarterback for a sack

-Marqise Lee appears ready to spring out of his first-half slump (that included a fourth-down drop) on a punt return, but it ends tragically: Lee fails to hold the football well, which is poked out and then recovered by the Warriors’ special teams

-the Trojan defensive line maintains its overpowering influence, as Uko notches another sack for a loss of 8 yards; the drive later ends for Hawaii, as freshman Jabari Ruffin disrupts the opposing quarterback into an incomplete pass

-Kiffin chooses to try and get some more points on the board before the half; Kessler completes consecutive passes to Lee for a combined 22 yards, in addition to a 3-yard dump-off to tight end Xavier Grimble–this proves a shrewd move on the part of Kiffin, who would not have been blamed if he elected to just go into the half with a 12-point lead, and instead gives USC an extra 3 points off of Andre Heidari’s 52-yard field goal (a career-long)

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