USC quarterback Cody Kessler produced a clutch performance last season when he led USC to an upset victory over Stanford.
Kessler’s opportunity to face the Cardinal again on Saturday appeared uncertain because he sat out one practice and shared first-team snaps in another this week after Coach Steve Sarkisian said the junior had undergone an unspecified procedure on one of his toes.
But Sarkisian reiterated after Thursday’s closed practice that Kessler and injured defensive lineman Leonard Williams remained on track to play in the Pac-12 Conference opener at Stanford Stadium.
Kessler passed for four touchdowns and a career-best 394 yards in USC’s season-opening victory over Fresno State. During one play, he slid awkwardly on his left knee, catching the brace customarily worn by USC quarterbacks in the turf.
Kessler wore a brace during Wednesday’s practice but he was not wearing one before or after Thursday’s workout. He was upbeat and moved without any discernible foot or knee problems while throwing passes to receivers afterward.
He also engaged Sarkisian in a post-practice contest to see who could hit a garbage can with a football.
It was a light moment in what has otherwise been an uneven week of preparation for the Trojans.
On Tuesday, when Sarkisian said Kessler had the procedure, the quarterback was absent for about half the morning practice and did not participate in team drills after he arrived. Williams suffered an ankle injury and freshman offensive lineman Damien Mama suffered an apparent knee injury.
Sarkisian, citing the challenge of implementing a new game plan, said, “I wouldn’t say this was our best practice of the year.”
The Trojans improved Wednesday and finished with a good practice Thursday, Sarkisian said.
“It’s amazing how far you can come from Tuesday until Thursday, when you implement a game plan, and you walk out of Tuesday thinking, ‘Jeez, we’ve got to get so much better at this or that.’ And by Thursday you do it,” he said.
Williams, who sat out Wednesday, had his helmet and was in practice gear for Thursday’s workout.
Freshman Viane Talamaivao could start in place of Mama at right guard. Sarkisian has said that Mama’s availability would be a game-time decision.
Redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins is eager to face Stanford after starting for the first time against Fresno State.
Hawkins moved up the depth chart because of Josh Shaw’s indefinite suspension. He said his nerves dissipated after he “got in a little tussle” with a Fresno State player in the second quarter.
Though he did not play last season, Hawkins traveled with the team. He said the experience would help when the Trojans play at Stanford.
“I got to see the other environments,” he said, adding, “It’s nothing that I can’t handle.”
Stanford is noted for its offensive line and rushing attack, but the Cardinal also features several talented receivers.
Senior Ty Montgomery caught 10 touchdown passes last season. In last week’s 45-0 victory over UC Davis, he scored on a 44-yard pass play from quarterback Kevin Hogan and also on a 60-yard punt return.
Michael Rector caught a 40-yard touchdown pass against Davis.
Devon Cajuste did not play against Davis because of a one-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Offensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers, who suffered a knee sprain during training camp, has been cleared to play against Stanford, Sarkisian said.
Stanford has a 17-game home winning streak, longest in major college football.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein