Five things we learned in USC’s 55-6 victory over Arkansas State on Saturday night at the Coliseum:
USC can handle business
Several Pac-12 Conference teams couldn’t take care of business in their openers on Saturday, but USC wasn’t one of them.
The Trojans moved beyond training camp drama with a 55-6 victory over Arkansas State.
It was the type of convincing victory that the Trojans needed over a Sun Belt team that was picked to finish third in its conference in a preseason coaches’ poll.
And USC will need to play with the same level of intensity Saturday when it hosts the Sun Belt’s Idaho, which was picked to finish last in the conference in that same coaches’ poll.
Cody Kessler continues where he left off
It will be a challenge for Cody Kessler to throw another 39 touchdown passes, with only five interceptions, like he did last season.
But the fifth-year senior quarterback is off to a good start.
Kessler completed 19 of 26 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns, connecting with 10 different targets.
He struggled to complete a few deep passes, but he also was under more duress than he likely anticipated.
Kessler was sacked five times.
Tre Madden returns to form
Fifth-year senior Tre Madden was sidelined during the 2014 season because of a foot injury.
But he returned with a vengeance on Saturday.
In three quarters, Madden rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown in 12 carries.
Madden was one of several starters who did not play in the fourth quarter.
Freshmen step in
USC might lack experience, but it does not lack for depth.
Coach Steve Sarkisian played 13 freshmen against Arkansas State.
Tailbacks Ronald Jones, Aca’Cedric Ware and Dominic Davis each made their debut. Jones and Ware scored their first career touchdowns.
Tight end Tyler Petite caught a pass for five yards.
And Chuma Edoga rotated in at right tackle.
On defense, linemen Noah Jefferson, Jacob Daniel and Rasheem Green made their debuts.
Cameron Smith became the first freshman linebacker to start in an opener since Riki Gray (Ellison) in 1978.
And highly touted recruits Osa Masina and Porter Gustin made their presence felt at linebacker. Masina picked up a wayward lateral and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown.
Defensive backs Iman Marshall and Marvell Tell III also played. Marshall broke up two passes.
Defense can force turnovers
USC’s defense played more aggressively than it did last season and it paid off with forced turnovers.
Chris Hawkins moved from cornerback to safety during spring practice and won the starting position in training camp.
Hawkins intercepted a pass and returned it 20 yards. He also recovered a fumble that was forced by linebacker Jabari Ruffin.
Linebacker Su’a Cravens intercepted a pass and returned it 32 yards, almost for a touchdown.
And Masina scooped up a lateral and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown.