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USC Coach Clay Helton calls Cody Kessler’s game ‘phenomenal,’ though stats are less so

USC quarterback Cody Kessler connects with receiver Juju Smith-Schuster for a 72-yard touchdown pass against Arizona during a game at the Coliseum on Nov. 7.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler connects with receiver Juju Smith-Schuster for a 72-yard touchdown pass against Arizona during a game at the Coliseum on Nov. 7.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Cody Kessler’s statistics were not off the charts.

USC’s quarterback misfired on a few passes against Arizona, Trojans receivers dropped several others and the senior was under duress for much of the game.

However, Kessler also delivered a perfectly thrown deep ball to receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on a 72-yard scoring play, and completed two key third-down passes on USC’s victory-clinching drive.

“Phenomenal,” interim Coach Clay Helton said Monday when asked to evaluate Kessler’s recent play.

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That might be overstating the case, but Kessler’s efficiency has helped USC win three games in a row, a feat not accomplished by the Trojans since the 2013 season.

USC can extend the streak Friday night when it plays at Colorado.

Kessler has been criticized for not taking enough shots downfield, but his long pass to Smith-Schuster hit the sophomore receiver in stride.

“We’ve always been capable,” Kessler said. “The last few weeks, we got away from it, just kind of helping our [offensive] line out a little bit and eliminate some of the longer protections for them. . . . They did a good job there and held up for me and JuJu ran a great route and got open and he made the job pretty easy for me.”

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Said Helton: “I don’t know if you can throw a better ball.”

Kessler completed 22 of 36 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. He has not had a pass intercepted in the last three games.

Kessler has completed 69% of his passes, 20 for touchdowns, with five interceptions.

Fast company

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Freshman tailback Ronald Jones II met former USC running back LenDale White in September when the Trojans played at Arizona State.

As a freshman in 2003, White rushed for 140 yards against the Sun Devils at Tempe, Ariz.

Jones eclipsed that by rushing for a USC freshman-record 177 yards against Arizona.

Jones said it was “cool” to be mentioned with other great USC backs. He said Reggie Bush was his favorite Trojan.

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“If I could get there,” he said, “that would be great.”

Quick hits

Smith-Schuster and linebacker Cameron Smith were held out of contact drills. Smith-Schuster, still wearing a soft cast on his right hand, ran routes and participated in a few drills but did not attempt to catch balls thrown by quarterbacks. Smith was scheduled to have an MRI exam on his shoulder Monday. Helton said the test as “preventative” and that he expected Smith would be available Friday.

gary.klein@latimes.com

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Twitter: @latimesklein


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