Kessler passes for 410 yards, No. 8 USC blasts Idaho 59-9
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Cody Kessler settled in the pocket and calmly surveyed his receivers, eventually choosing JuJu Smith-Schuster as he sprinted down the middle for a beautiful 50-yard touchdown.
The whole thing looked a bit like practice for eighth-ranked Southern California. With no offense to overmatched Idaho, that’s how the Trojans treated their final game before their serious competition begins.
Kessler threw for a career-high 410 yards and hit Smith-Schuster with two of his three touchdown passes, leading the Trojans past Idaho 59-9 Saturday night for their second straight blowout win.
Smith-Schuster set career highs with 10 catches for 192 yards as the Trojans (2-0) amassed 738 total yards and routed a Sun Belt Conference opponent for the second straight week.
“These first two games were very important for us because now we’re going into Pac-12 play,” Kessler said. “Last week, we improved a ton. ... Our biggest thing in practice all week was knowing that we’ve hit those plays a million times. Practice makes perfect.”
Kessler went 26 for 31 with no interceptions, hitting Isaac Whitney for a 28-yard score in the second half. USC’s senior quarterback has passed for 650 yards and seven touchdowns while beating Arkansas State and Idaho (0-2) by a combined 99 points.
The Trojans’ schedule gets tougher next week when Stanford visits the Coliseum, but they were reasonably close to perfect against the Vandals.
USC led 38-3 at halftime after racking up 434 yards on just 46 plays, with Justin Davis and Tre Madden scoring two touchdowns apiece. Every eligible player got into the game for USC, which pleased coach Steve Sarkisian greatly.
“We jumped out on (Idaho), which is probably what we should have done,” he said. “It was a great win, but we understand what lies ahead.”
Freshman Ronald Jones II rushed for 83 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown for the Trojans, who followed up last week’s 55-6 victory over Arkansas State with another laugher.
Matt Linehan passed for 194 yards for the Vandals (0-2), who got $1.1 million to travel to the schools’ second meeting since the 1920s. Jacob Sannon caught nine passes for 79 yards, and Trent Cowan had a TD catch as Idaho dropped to 2-23 under coach Paul Petrino.
“We got beat, but there were times where I thought our offense played pretty good,” Petrino said. “There was one drive where Matt looked good. Other than that, they were better than us.”
USC scored touchdowns on five of its first six drives against Idaho, going at least 50 yards for each score. Sarkisian gave significant playing time to five tailbacks, and they combined for 164 yards in the first half behind the Trojans’ tough offensive line.
Davis finished the first two drives with TD runs in the first 5:36, and Smith-Schuster grabbed Kessler’s long TD pass a few minutes later.
″(Kessler) told me in practice this week, ‘Every time we go deep, I’m going to get you the ball,’” Smith-Schuster said.
Madden then capped two long drives with TD runs in the second quarter.
After Idaho freshman quarterback Jake Luton played the second quarter, Linehan returned for the second half and immediately led a 75-yard drive capped by Cowan’s 10-yard TD catch. USC also gave up a long scoring drive to begin the second half against Arkansas State last week.
But USC answered with an 87-yard drive in six plays, capped by the 28-yard catch for the first TD by Whitney, a junior college transfer.
The Vandals’ huge task was even tougher without their top two receivers.
Idaho wideout Dezmon Epps led the nation with 15 receptions in the season opener against Ohio, but the senior didn’t play at the Coliseum despite participating in warmups before suiting up for the game and standing on the sideline in his helmet and pads.
Epps, perhaps the Vandals’ best player overall, missed the 2014 season under suspension after being charged with theft. Idaho spokesperson Becky Paull declined to say whether Epps was suspended again.
Idaho also is without No. 2 receiver David Ungerer, who has a stress fracture in his foot.