Kessler & Co. answer the challenge

Throw it out there and trust your receivers to go get it, the coaches told Cody Kessler. So he did. Seven TD passes, a USC record, against Colorado in a 56-28 romp, made that a good bet for all around.

Not so fast on the "challenge" story line.

Challenging Cody Kessler to throw the ball deep, give his receivers a chance and take the play that's there was only part of the deal here Saturday as the USC quarterback broke the Trojans' all-time record for touchdown passes in a game -- firing seven to four different receivers in a 56-28 Homecoming romp over Colorado (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12).

The other part of it was simply this: Steve Sarkisian, Clay Helton & Co. rose to the challenge as well. "This is going to be a run-first team," Sark said. "But if teams load the box on us, we have to make them pay."

That gameplan would have guaranteed a win at Boston College. And probably made things easier in three of the Pac-12 games this far. But it's here and in play and this USC team is good to go with it.

For a defense that gets more nicked up by the game -- Gerald Bowman (foot), Adoree Jackson (hip flexor) and Leonard Williams (shoulder) -- it's time to realize there are times you just may have to outscore someone to beat them.

In the Pac-12, that means you may have to score lots of points and do so quickly, explosively and "get yards in chunks," as Sark likes to say.

Well, Saturday was just that. Chunk after chunk after chunk. Throw it out there and see if they can catch it -- "if they're one on one," Cody said. They don't have to be wide open "They can be tied," he said. "I have to give 'em a chance."

"Trust your receivers," Sark and Helton told Cody this week, "That's why they're here," Cody added to that thought process. They should be able to make those plays. As they did.

First was freshman Juju Smith, laying out with that brace he's been wearing to protect his left thumb. "I realized I couldn't get my right hand, my dominant hand over to it so I just tried to catch it with my left."

As he did, for 12 yards to keep the first scoring drive moving on. It was splashy but no big deal -- except to the Trojans. They knew what that catch took -- and what it meant.

So did JuJu. "I was surprised," he said. "So were my teammates." They'd get to reward the freshman soon thereafter as he grabbed a seven-yard TD for his first-ever in college. He wouldn't be alone celebrating in this game the way Cody proved true to his words.

"We trust that if I am going to put it up," he said, "they are going to make that play."

Which they did again and again and again. Nelson Agholor did it three times, from 16, 18 and 75 yards out. to give him seven TDs for the season and 15 for his career. A reason -- or three or 15 of them -- to trust him for sure.

And freshman tight end Bryce Dixon, Cody found him twice for TD passes -- from the 15- and nine-yard lines. First ones for Bryce since the opener. He can be trusted to make a play.

And how about Steven Mitchell, making his first real impact of the season on a complete sellout of a catch, diving for as difficult a play as any you'll see made Sunday. Hard to imagine how he caught that ball. But he did. Trust him too.

"That's a hard question," Tee Martin said when asked about which catch was better. Then he came back with: "JuJu's . . . because of his thumb."

But they weren't alone. Quietly the guy Colorado and everybody else on USC's schedule sells out to stop, Buck Allen, was biding his time. Seven TDs out of the way, it was time. So Buck kicked it in gear from 39 yards out on a power sweep left that had him untouched for USC's lone ground TD, making it 56-21 as the third quarter ran out.

That was Buck's 10th 100-yard rushing game (128 yards in 15 carries) in his last 13 and sixth of the season, the first time USC has had a back go for 100 yards or more six times since Reggie Bush did it nine times and LenDale White, the sideline tweeter, did it six times in 2005.

White later told Buck he liked his style, "He said that I ran 'smooth,' " Buck said, "like a combination of him and Reggie. Coming from a guy as good as he was makes me feel good." And no, Buck doesn't follow social media so he said he had no idea of the controversy surronding LenDale the last two weeks.

Buck just wanted to talk about Cody. "Cody deserves everything he got tonight," Buck said. "And Nelson does. And JuJu does and Bryce and Justin [Davis] when he came back in there." After a fumble to be exact. And kept running it to near the 100-yard mark (97 on 11 carries, an 8.8 average outdoing Buck's 8.5).

Sark will take it, he said. And likes the identity he sees developing for his team: "You have to be able to run the football. I am not going to waver off that. I love the fact that we had two backs at 100 yards (or almost) and we throw seven touchdowns. To me, that's an awesome identity to have."

But it's not the only one. There was the other side of the ball where Gerald Bowman talked of how the coaches wanted him, when he's lined up two-deep, to always locate the ball and come up hard. Which he did as he separated Colorado's Jeromy Irwin from the ball at the 50 almost on the CU bench, knocking it up in the air where Kevon Seymour could grab USC's Pac-12-leading eighth interception of the year.

"I didn't know Kevon was there," Bowman said, standing on a right foot that wasn't sprained, he said, as Sark feared, and not broken after X-rays proved negative. He should be good to go next week at Utah, he said.

But he wasn't alone as Su'a Cravens once more was given a chance to jump a route and did just that for his second INT of the season and sixth of his career. "I didn't think their quarterback was going to throw it," Cravens said. But just like Kessler, Sefo Liufau gave a top Trojan athlete a chance to make a play on the ball. And that's what Su'a did.

In doing what the Trojans did on defense, they held Colorado quarterback Liufau to a career-low 143 yards passing on 23 of 35 with those two INT. Kessler finished 19 of 26 for 319 yards and the seven TD as USC piled up 532 yards of offense to CU's 403, a good bit in garbage time in a ragged fourth quarter when USC didn't score with the backups mostly.

But there wasn't as much Colorado talk as you'd think. "We are going to have our work cut out for us," Sark said after watching next Saturday's opponent Utah beat Oregon State Thursday, "and that work starts as soon as we are done here."



You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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