USC Sports

USC Now mailbag: Sacks, non-conference schedule and freshmen

Darrius Rosser, Toa Lobendahn

USC will need to protect quarterback Cody Kessler (6) better after Arkansas State recorded five sacks against the Trojans.

(Harry How / Getty Images)

How much more eager is everyone that USC will open the 2016 season against Alabama, after playing two Sun Belt Conference opponents to open this season?

That’s a rhetorical question. 

You missed the fact in “Five things” that the USC offensive line seemed very poor, which will be a problem with better opponents — 5 sacks!

— Robert Zimmerman


USC quarterback Cody Kessler was sacked five times in the first half against Arkansas State and not once in the second half.

I considered including the sacks in “Five things we learned in USC’s victory over Arkansas State,” however, it appeared that the offensive linemen — and Kessler — made adjustments that solved the problem in the second half.

If Kessler is sacked several times against Idaho, you can count on reading about it Sunday morning.

Is it tough to create and maintain an edge with a cupcake on the schedule?


— David Shottenkirk, @Shotty1717

This is a question that we’ll likely have an answer to after USC plays Stanford in Week 3 and Arizona State in Week 4.

It’s interesting this season because USC has so many freshmen.

If this were a team that was relying mostly on upperclassmen, it would be best to play tougher non-conference opponents to get players ready for Pac-12 Conference action.

However, this non-conference schedule could be what’s best to ease freshmen into the mix before they are jolted by conference play.

USC coaches have noticeably raised the level of intensity in practice the past two weeks. Certain drills and 11-on-11 periods look considerably more competitive than they did during training camp.

Clearly, coaches know tougher opponents are ahead.

And they say NFL pre-season games are a joke? UCLA will punish USC for playing such a cupcake non-conference schedule.


— Rick Snyder

The first two games of UCLA’s non-conference schedule aren’t that much tougher than USC’s.

Virginia, whom the Bruins defeated 34-16 in the opener, was picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal Division.

And UNLV was picked to finish last in the Mountain West Conference. The Runnin’ Rebels lost 38-30 to Northern Illinois in their opener.

Perhaps the UCLA-UNLV game rivals USC’s matchup against Idaho this week. The Trojans are 43-point favorites against the Vandals, who were picked to finish last in the Sun Belt Conference.

USC also will play at Notre Dame in the middle of the season, while UCLA hosts BYU in Week 3. 

Are we making a potential mistake by not redshirting one of the freshman running backs?

— Alex Magdaleno, @The_Amag



USC didn’t need to play all three freshmen in the opener, and it’s unlikely all three will be needed against Idaho.

However, Coach Steve Sarkisian’s philosophy this season seems to be to do what is best for the team now and worry about the future later.

The Trojans might need all three freshmen later in the season, given the injury history of Justin Davis and Tre Madden.

If ever there were a couple of games to slowly break the freshmen in, these would be them.

Questions or comments about USC? Email me at or tweet @LindseyThiry and I will respond to select messages in a weekly USC Now mailbag.

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