Three weeks, one game, no separation

USC head coach Lane Kiffin anticipated playing both quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek in the Trojans season opener against Hawaii and he stuck to his plan. However, part of the plan was to distinguish a starter by games end... and that didn't come close to happening.

USC head coach Lane Kiffin was undoubtedly hoping for a blockbuster hit when he told the media on Tuesday before departing for Hawaii that he didn't want to reveal who would be the starting quarterback in the Trojans season opener against the Rainbow Warriors because he didn't want to spoil the ending to a good movie before we saw it.

Turns out, the movie was a dud.

Redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler started against the Rainbow Warriors after having what Kiffin called "A little bit better of a week" than redshirt sophomore counterpart Max Wittek. "A few things he had done just put him a notch above," Kiffin said.

The plan the entire game was to give both quarterbacks playing time in hopes of seeing the crème rise to the top.

Kiffin and USC fans may have to wait another game to see if there's any separation – unless the head coach finally decides to just choose a guy and go with it.

"On offense we played very poorly," Kiffin said after the game.

Kessler played the entire first half and the first series of the second half in his first career start. He finished just 10-of-19 for 95 yards including a touchdown and an interception.

He looked nothing like the part he played during the Trojans three weeks of fall camp, when he was able to move the ball down the field and effortlessly complete a variation of passes.

Asked if he was nervous to start the game Kessler said no, before admitting there may have been a few jitters. "I mean, obviously you got a little butterfly or something like that and then you get excited pregame, but not nervous," he said.

After a three and out to start the second half Kessler removed his helmet, Wittek started throwing on the sideline and it was a wrap for Kessler.

Kiffin admitted he was surprised to see Kessler struggle as much as he appeared to, "I thought Cody had a phenomenal week of preparation," he said. "My anticipation was that both would play great and Cody would go in there and do really well and unfortunately that didn't happen."

It didn't happen for Wittek, either. His first two series also resulted in three and out, though the Trojans' offensive line didn't help the cause, as Wittek was sacked twice before he even knew what hit him.

Wittek, who started the final two games in the 2012 against No. 1 Notre Dame and Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, finished 5-of-10 for 77 yards in his nearly two quarters of play.

"I think with it being the first game there's going to be a period when you're trying to get things going," Wittek said after the game. "Really I think we came together toward the end."

After Thursday's opener Kiffin admitted he thought the quarterback battle would be over. He acknowledged that it most likely isn't, "I was hoping a long time ago it would be settled," he said. "But that's not my job to just do what makes me feel good, I have to do what's in the best interest for the team."

At this point, based on Thursday's performance what is best for the team could be anyone's guess.

"There was not an obvious No. 1" Kiffin said.

"We both battled today and we both wish we had better days," Kessler said after the game, when asked where he thought his performance put him in the race against Wittek. "I couldn't tell you without watching the film," Wittek said. "I felt good playing the game… it felt good to be back out there on the field."

Kiffin called it a fair question when asked if as the head coach he should ultimately pick a quarterback for the team to rally around, "That didn't have anything to do with what we saw happen in the first half," he said. "We didn't execute very well. The knew in the last two days who was the quarterback."

The lack of execution for the Trojans' offense started with protection breakdowns and penalties on the offensive line. It continued to the quarterbacks and ultimately was magnified by receivers who dropped multiple passes.

USC's next contest is its home and Pac-12 opener on Saturday hosting Washington State at the Coliseum.

Reasonable enough after the two performances he had just witnessed, Kiffin said he didn't know who would be starting against the Cougars. "We'll go back and see," he said. "We have nine days to figure it out."

Get in the discussion with other USC fans in the Fight On! SC Insiders Forum

Follow Lindsey Thiry on Twitter Top Stories