After dragging the quarterback battle out through spring practices, fall camp, and the first two game weeks, USC head coach Lane Kiffin announced Monday that Cody Kessler will be the starter going forward.
Kiffin hasn't wanted to say much about the quarterback situation with the goal of "protecting" both Kessler and Max Wittek from outside scrutiny. He continued along those lines during Tuesday's post-practice press conference, despite telling the media during Sunday's conference call that after meeting with both players he would discuss the decision, "I'll have that information for you and everything around the decision about the decision and the reason for the decision," Kiffin said Sunday.
On Tuesday, the head coach backtracked, only wanting to skim the topic. "I know I mentioned to you guys about explaining later about it, but I just thought more about it and that's not really fair to the kids," Kiffin said. "There's enough stuff out there that they have to deal with. For me to add on to that doesn't make any sense."
In his two starts (amounting to two halves plus a series), Kessler was 18-of-32 with two interceptions and a touchdown. He rushed for a 4-yard touchdown in the loss to Washington State.
Kessler admitted Tuesday that he didn't feel himself through the first two games because of the ongoing competition with Wittek. "I don't mean this as an excuse in any way at all, but those first two weeks I'd be lying to you if I said – it was tough to focus on a game when you're still thinking about competing for a spot," Kessler explained. "Now that I don't have that thought in my head at all, it's awesome. The coaches have complete [confidence] in me."
His counterpart, Wittek, was 8-of-18 with an interception after two halves of football. Wittek admitted to disappointment on Tuesday since learning the news, "It's natural to feel that way… it's the competitive nature within me."
Kiffin said Kessler appeared to have more confidence during Tuesday's practice since now knowing "he's the guy".
"We expect Cody to play great Saturday, really take charge of this offense, and getting us back on the winning track," Kiffin said, adding that part of the reason Kessler won the job is because he manages situations well.
"Those last two games we didn't accomplish what we wanted to as an offensive unit," Kessler said. "Now I take it even more personally on me. We need to get better for this next game coming up.
Wittek's meeting with Kiffin
The toughest part of picking a starter? Notifying the guy who didn't win the job.
Kiffin said Tuesday that he met with both Kessler and Wittek to discuss the decision.
According to Kiffin his meeting with Kessler was brief, "That's really about ‘Let's go, let's get this thing right'," Kiffin said.
"It's always the other [player] you have to worry about and spend more time with," Kiffin explained. "It's hard on him, they're all competitive kids."
Wittek said Tuesday that it wasn't a "very extensive conversation" with his head coach when he was informed of the decision. "It was real brief and he just told me what was going on," Wittek said.
Marqise Lee said after Saturday's loss that there would be a players-only meeting on Sunday.
During Sunday's conference call, Kiffin said he did not think the meeting had taken place, nor did he think much comes from players-only meetings.
"I don't think that ever works," Kiffin said Sunday night. "That's why we meet with them. We show them how the film is broken down, how it happened."
Lee said after Tuesday's practice that the players had in fact gotten together to discuss the direction they want to go the rest of the season.
"Kiffin don't know," Lee explained, when asked to clarify because his head coach said no meeting had taken place. "Kiffin… players, PLAYYYERS – not coaches. So yeah, we did have that meeting. Kiffin don't know about it, but now he knows thanks to you guys.
"It was about what we do after [the loss]," Lee explained. "The positive mindsets as we move forward. Not losing faith and continuing to build on the loss."
The team captain says he thinks "everybody got it" and the mood in practice has shown the messages discussed in the meeting were received.
It's hot button topic of the season, which drew boos and "Fire Kiffin" chants from USC fans on Saturday.
When will Kiffin open the offense up?
"I don't know," he answered on Tuesday. "Obviously we are not pleased with the outcome of the amount of points and the amount of yards in the game."
The Trojans amassed just 193 total yards of offense in the 10-7 loss to Washington State, 156 of those yards on carries by tailback Tre Madden.
"We have a running back who is running the ball really well," Kiffin said. "Unfortunately there is one glaring thing that is sticking out and that is the passing game."
Asked if he thought the playcalling was too conservative, Kiffin said "Yeah, because we lost."
"We are not trying to lose," he continued, "Just because you run the ball doesn't mean you aren't trying to score."
As for what has come to be the dreaded bubble screen pass, Marqise Lee says he doesn't care what outsiders think of the play. "If I have to run bubbles all day and run screens then that's what I'm going to do," Lee said. "I really don't care, to tell you the truth. I'm going to do whatever Kiffin tells me to do.
"People don't understand. They don't know the gameplan. They're not watching film and paying attention to some of the things that the coaches see," he said.
Asked if he's hungry for the signature ‘Marqise Lee' explosive play downfield, Lee said "It will come when it comes. I'm not pressed about that situation. It's nothing to me."
Lee trying to do too much?
Through two games USC receiver Marqise Lee has 15 catches for 131 yards and no touchdowns.
On Saturday against Washington State, Lee caught merely seven passes for only 27 yards. According to Kiffin, Lee is trying to do too much when the ball is in his hands.
"I think Marqise is pushing himself a little bit too much, trying a little bit too hard which is very normal," Kiffin explained. "He's going to have frustrations because we're not playing really well on offense."
Kiffin met with Lee on Sunday to discuss the need for the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner to get back to doing "his job" and nothing more. "He is so competitive and he wants everybody to do so well and that sometimes gets him off balance from just doing his job."
The junior receiver openly disagreed with his head coach, saying that he's just trying to be himself. "If you look to my freshman and sophomore year, I'm just doing the same thing that I did," Lee said. "But he did put on me to stay focused and make sure I continue to work and finish in the game."
Kiffin pointed to Lee's two fumbles through two games as well as dropping a punt return on Saturday as abnormalities in Lee's game that he doesn't expect to see from the junior going forward.
More carries for Davis?
Tailback Tre Madden carried the ball 32 times for 156 yards against WSU. While Kiffin says that sometimes it will be the case that one player gets the majority of the carries based on how the game is being played, he expects freshman tailback Justin Davis to get more carries as the season goes on.
Kiffin made no mention of tailback Silas Redd, who entered Howard Jones Field wearing sneakers.