Steve Sarkisian wants USC to pick up the pace

USC receiver Steven Mitchell leaves Arkansas State safety Cody Brown in the dirt as he scores the Trojans' second touchdown of the first half at the Coliseum.

USC receiver Steven Mitchell leaves Arkansas State safety Cody Brown in the dirt as he scores the Trojans’ second touchdown of the first half at the Coliseum.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

USC got off to a fast start with its season-opening rout of Arkansas State.

On Sunday, Coach Steve Sarkisian said he wants the Trojans to go faster.

The Trojans ran only 64 plays Saturday night in their 55-6 victory against an overmatched Sun Belt Conference opponent. They play another Sun Belt team, Idaho, on Saturday at the Coliseum.

USC ran 105 plays in its 2014 opener against Fresno State.

“I think we can really speed things up, get more snaps and that will help us down the road,” Sarkisian said during a teleconference with reporters.

The Trojans can also help themselves by converting more third downs. They were three for 10 against Arkansas State.


Sarkisian was pleased with the Trojans’ plays for long gains and the performances of the 23 players that made their Trojans debuts, including 13 freshmen.

Tailbacks Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware; linebackers Cameron Smith and Osa Masina; and defensive back Iman Marshall earned praise.

“All in all, I think the young guys went out and performed and did what they’re capable of doing,” Sarkisian said.

Ten offensive linemen, nine defensive linemen and 10 linebackers played in the opener, Sarkisian said.

The offensive line gave up five sacks in the first half, but Sarkisian said that quarterback Cody Kessler was responsible for “a couple” and that a running back could be blamed for another.

The linemen improved in the second half with “more of a want to” attitude, Kessler said.

“They took it personal,” Kessler said after the game. “[Center Max] Tuerk came over to me and apologized and I told him, ‘Don’t worry about it, man. Sacks happen. I’m fine.’”

Kessler passed for four touchdowns but missed receivers on several throws downfield.

“Cody was good,” Sarkisian said. “I think he can be better.”

Coaches will work with Kessler this week on his footwork.

“Make sure his feet are really solid because I think that can affect your accuracy down the field,” Sarkisian said.

Kessler impressed Arkansas State Coach Blake Anderson.

“I thought he made a couple great plays under duress, huge throws either under pressure or going down that were back-breakers for us,” Anderson said after the game, adding, “There’s a reason he’s touted as one of the best in the country and we saw that.”


Jackson update

Sarkisian reiterated that an abdominal injury suffered by cornerback Adoree’ Jackson was not serious and that “he has a good shot” at playing against Idaho.

Jackson was injured while returning a punt in the first quarter and was held out the rest of the game.

Receiver Steven Mitchell Jr., who caught four passes, including a 14-yard touchdown, suffered a bruised hand and will be monitored during the week.

Tailback Justin Davis, sidelined because of a rib injury, and defensive lineman Claude Pelon, who had arthroscopic knee surgery last month, could return this week, Sarkisian said.

The status of linebacker Lamar Dawson (rib) is more uncertain.

Versatile move

Sophomore Chris Hawkins started at safety and also played cornerback.

“A swing guy for us,” Sarkisian said.

The third-year sophomore intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.

In 2014, Hawkins started the first four games at cornerback before Jackson took the spot. Hawkins began working at safety last season and made the transition during spring practice.

He made five tackles against Arkansas State.

“He’s doing a great job of coming downfield and making tackles,” linebacker Su’a Cravens said, “And as you can see, the coverage.”

Quick hits


Linebacker Quinton Powell did not play against Arkansas State. Sarkisian did not give a reason why the junior did not play, but said he would be available this week…. Idaho lost its opener against Ohio, 45-28. USC is 8-0 against the Vandals…. The Trojans resume practice Tuesday.


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Twitter: @latimesklein