USC quarterback Cody Kessler celebrates with receiver Marqise Lee after… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Cody Kessler finally looked and played the part.
After two games of anxiously peering over his shoulder, wondering if he'd ever get a chance to show USC teammates and fans what he was truly capable of, Kessler got his opportunity Saturday as the Trojans' undisputed starting quarterback.
Kessler made the most of it, directing a multifaceted attack and passing for two touchdowns in the Trojans' 35-7 nonconference victory over Boston College at the Coliseum.
Kessler, a third-year sophomore from Bakersfield, completed 15 of 17 passes for 237 yards and connected with tailback Tre Madden and receiver Marqise Lee for touchdowns.
His only two incompletions were long passes that Lee dived for but was unable to haul in.
Kessler said he felt "a whole new sense of confidence" since Coach Lane Kiffin selected him over Max Wittek as the starter on Monday.
"I played my game today," Kessler said. "I played who I was today.
"I felt comfortable, I felt relaxed and I had a blast."
So did the embattled Kiffin and the rest of his players as the Trojans improved their record to 2-1.
Kiffin opened up the offense, Madden rushed for more than 100 yards for the third consecutive game, Lee broke out with a big play and the defense remained dominant.
The effort not only quelled previously unbeaten Boston College, but also a potential uprising by USC fans.
Many had booed Kiffin's play-calling and chanted for his firing during last week's 10-7 loss to Washington State.
It made for a challenging week of preparation for the Trojans.
"There wasn't a lot of positivity around," Kiffin acknowledged, "for obvious reasons."
But the Trojans bounced back and outgained Boston College 521-184.
Eagles running back Andre Williams, who rushed for 204 yards last week against Wake Forest, was held to 38 yards by a USC defense that entered the game ranked first in the nation against the run.
"We played today like . . . we set out last January to play," Kiffin said as he emerged from the locker room. "The goal was to play really physical, to not have a season like last year where we felt like we couldn't stop the run and we couldn't run the ball.
"Today, we basically did exactly what we set out to do."
Kiffin did not waste time making a statement.
After riling fans last week by calling for a seemingly endless stream of conservative "bubble" screens to Lee, he began the game by having Kessler throw deep to the Biletnikoff Award winner after a play-action fake. Kessler overthrew the pass, but the call alone elicited a rousing roar from the crowd.
"It was surprising, but I knew what they were cheering about," Lee said. "We took a shot down the field."
Kessler then proceeded to complete his next 14 passes, spreading them to six different receivers, including tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble and wide receivers Nelson Agholor and De'Von Flournoy.
Kessler directed an 86-yard scoring drive on the Trojans' second possession, keeping alive several plays with his movement in and out of the pocket. His five-yard pass to Madden gave the Trojans a 7-0 lead.
Early in the second quarter, Kessler passed to Lee cutting left to right over the middle. Lee slipped a tackle near the USC sideline and turned upfield for an 80-yard scoring play, good for a 14-0 halftime lead.
Madden, who rushed for 102 yards in 16 carries, said Kessler's confidence was evident during practice this week.
"You could tell his charisma was back,'' Madden said.
Madden ran for a 30-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Freshman tailback Justin Davis, who rushed for 96 yards, scored on a 17-yard run early in the fourth before Boston College scored on a run by Tyler Rouse.
Kessler then gave way to Wittek, who directed a drive that he finished with a short touchdown run.
"We felt good at the half and that we would regroup and respond," Boston College Coach Steve Addazio said. "But it didn't happen."
USC cornerback Josh Shaw said the Trojans' offense made it easy on a defense that has showed few weaknesses.
"'The best position for a defensive player is to be on the sideline," he said. "And our offense helped us out with that today."