"Winning solves problems."
This became USC head coach Lane Kiffin's go-to line during the second half of his trying 7-6 2012 season. It reemerged after the 10-7 loss to Washington State when the Trojans were surrounded by distractions regarding the state of Troy and the job security of Kiffin.
"I'm excited for all of our players," Kiffin said after the game. "It wasn't a great week. There wasn't positivity around for obvious reasons. I thought these guys kept working, kept grinding, and just worked extremely hard."
Kiffin is also happy for the USC fans, the boo birds who were chanting "Fire Kiffin" just a week ago in the same stadium.
"It wasn't an easy week on our fans, with how passionate they are and what they had to deal with last week," he said. "I'm happy for them to feel good today."
Kessler's first start
Saturday's game was the first that redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler knew he was taking the field as the secure winner of the starting quarterback position.
After his first pass of the game to Lee fell incomplete, Kessler completed his next 14 passes.
He said after the game he felt more comfortable taking the field Saturday knowing his position and role on the team was secure. "I played the whole week with [a confident] mindset," Kessler said after the game. "You can't really take control and be that guy to lead when you're sharing reps."
Kiffin agreed that he felt a newfound sense of confidence from Kessler over the week. "His preparation paid off," Kiffin said.
With a 28-7 lead late in the fourth quarter, Kessler was replaced by Max Wittek. Wittek finished 2-of-2 for 27 yards. He rushed for a yard touchdown.
The Trojans rebounded from a dismal passing game (11-of-21 with two interceptions) a week ago by throwing the ball 19 times (17 completions) for 264 yards Saturday afternoon.
Feeling the pressure from USC fans, Kiffin's very first call of the game was for Kessler to throw deep to Marqise Lee.
The pass fell incomplete, overthrown by a few yards.
But it didn't matter. USC fans cheered loudly.
And that's exactly how Kiffin and USC President Max Nikias drew it up.
After the game, Kiffin admitted that he was told to run that exact play by his boss.
"[Nikias] said throw deep and they'll cheer no matter what," Kiffin admitted after the game. "So that was for President Nikias."
That was the one and only time USC fans saw that play called, but Kiffin dropped the over-conservative tone he called plays with last week.
Kessler's longest play of the day was an 80-yard pass to Lee, in which Lee broke for the end zone in the second quarter. The catch was Lee's third 80-plus yard touchdown reception of his USC career. He also moved into third on USC's all-time receptions list with 208 career catches (Robert Woods holds the record at 252).
"This was a big play-action game," Kiffin said. "They were committed to stopping the run. You could see from the first play of the game that this was a good matchup for us."
USC finished with 521 total yards on offense, just 36-yards shy of the combined total of offensive yards gained in their Hawaii and Washington State games combined.
Seven different players recorded a reception by the end of the game.
Madden runs away
For the third straight game tailback Tre Madden put together a 100-plus yard performance.
Madden rushed Saturday afternoon for 103 yards on 16 carries.
He is the first Trojan since Marcus Allen's 1981 Heisman Trophy season to string together three straight 100-yard games to start the season.
Madden found his way to the end zone to cap the second series of the game for the Trojans on a five-yard reception from Kessler and then broke for a touchdown again in the third quarter on a 30-yard run.
First quarter…6 plays – 6 different guys
The most catching statistic of the game most likely came in the first quarter. Kessler completed six first quarter passes to six different receivers, including Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, Nelson Agholor, Marqise Lee, and De'Von Flournoy.
That's quite the difference from just a week ago against Washington State, when there were only 11 completed passes throughout the game – to four different players.
One win isn't going to save Kiffin's job. But right now for the head coach, it's a start.
Kiffin is most likely on a game-by-game basis as he attempts to steer his team out of the 1-1 mess they started in.
Right now, he's 2-1. Obviously not the desired 3-0 he admitted Thursday they'll never get to.
Tailgates Saturday morning were decorated with professionally printed "Fire Lane Kiffin" signs, but there were no sounds of boos throughout the game. Asked if he heard any after the game, Kiffin said he felt there was an effort on the fans part to stay positive. "We felt [fans] came out today saying they were really going to support this team," Kiffin explained. "I felt it on the Trojan Walk and down on the field, seeing signs."
Kiffin knows he's not out of the woods when it comes to winning over the USC fans – or even maintaining his job. But at this point, all he can do is try to win games.
"You can't get too high and too low," he said after the win. "We don't all of a sudden have all the problems solved."
Still no Redd
For the third straight week senior tailback Silas Redd was unavailable to play in the Trojans game. Redd walked in and out of practice all week dressed, but wearing sneakers. Redd tore his meniscus during spring practices and underwent surgery to repair his knee. When the Trojans opened their season in Hawaii, Redd made a trip to to Pensacola (Fla.) to undergo a procedure performed by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Redd nor Kiffin will comment on a timetable for his return.
Anthony Brown injured his knee week one at Hawaii. He walked in and out of practice wearing a brace on the knee this week.
This is the second week J.R. Tavai has been sidelined as well.
The Trojans saw two injuries before the end of the first half. Receiver Darreus Rogers was assisted off the field before being checked out on the sideline with an apparently ankle injury. Rogers was then carted off the field and USC announced he would not be returning for the second half.
Tight end Randall Telfer also went down at the end of the first half on a fumble recovery and was slow moving off the field after trainers spent time with him.
There was no postgame update on the status of either player.