USC struggles but still routs Hawaii

Kyle Galdeira, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

HONOLULU -- Despite a sluggish start by Southern California's offense Thursday in the season opener, the Trojans' defensive unit was well-equipped to handle everything Hawaii threw at it.
No. 24 USC overcame an early 5-3 deficit with 27 consecutive points -- 20 of which resulted from turnovers -- and rolled to a 30-13 victory over the Rainbow Warriors before 34,495 at Aloha Stadium.
The Trojans harassed Hawaii quarterback Taylor Graham, racking up seven sacks and intercepting the Ohio State transfer four times.
USC sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler got the starting nod over Max Wittek, and he accounted for 95 yards and a score through the air, completing 10 of 19 passes. Wittek, also a sophomore, played the second half and racked up 77 yards on 5-of-10 passing.
"We wanted to see both guys play and see how they would do," USC coach Lane Kiffin said when describing the decision to play both quarterbacks.
"It was the same focus I've had the whole time," Kessler said when asked about earning the starting nod. "We got the win ... but we obviously wish we had better (performances) and made some different throws."
Junior receiver Marqise Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner and Heisman Trophy candidate, led USC with 104 yards on a game-high eight receptions. The All-America first-teamer and reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year dropped two passes that would have nearly doubled his yardage total.
"At the end of the day, it's about winning the game," Kiffin said. "Obviously, we didn't play very well. On offense we played very poorly, on defense we played great today. We're 1-0; half the country is not."
Tre Madden started in place of senior USC tailback Silas Redd, who remained in California to nurse an injury, and the sophomore didn't miss a beat, piling up 109 yards on 18 carries. Freshman tailback Justin Davis also got in on the rushing parade, racking up 74 yards on 14 attempts and a score in mop-up duty.
"We left guys at home, we sat some guys that were questionable today," Kiffin said. "We'll go back and look at (the quarterback situation)."
Graham completed 16 of 41 attempts for 208 yards. He connected with Keith Kirkwood on a 60-yard touchdown pass in the game's waning seconds to make a dent in the deficit.
"Not the way I'd like to start off the season with a loss like that," Graham said. "There were a lot of mistakes that I wish I could have back; a lot of decisions, things that I could control. We've got to move on and get ready for Oregon State."
The Trojans built a 20-5 halftime lead thanks to a swarming defense that intercepted Graham three times, sacked him five times and limited the Rainbow Warriors to 74 first-half yards.
USC safety Su'a Cravens, a true freshman, picked off Graham early in the opening period, and the Trojans netted a 20-yard Andre Heidari field goal that put the visitors in front 3-0 midway through the first quarter.
After the Rainbow Warriors pinned USC on its own 1-yard line, Hawaii linebacker Art Laurel sacked Kessler in the end zone for a safety, which resulted in a rare 3-2 score with 14 minutes to play in the first half.
Hawaii's resulting possession led to Tyler Hadden's 42-yard field goal that gave the Rainbow Warriors their only lead of the contest, 5-3, with 11:43 remaining in the second quarter.
Graham was intercepted again, this time by USC linebacker Hayes Pullard, and the Trojans capitalized. Kessler connected with Nelson Agholor in the front corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown strike to put USC ahead 10-5.
The Trojans continued to harass Graham, who was picked off for the third time, resulting in a 35-yard return for touchdown by Josh Shaw to put USC up 17-5 with 2:49 remaining in the first half.
Heidari silenced the home crowd, booting a 52-yard field goal as the first-half clock expired to swell the USC lead to 15 at intermission.
"I thought both sides struggled with some rhythm early in the game, that's what you expect on offense," Hawaii coach Norm Chow said. "Our defense played their butts off; I absolutely loved the effort of our players."
Graham threw his fourth interception with three minutes remaining in the third quarter as USC safety Dion Bailey (seven tackles, one sack) flagged down an errant pass to end a Hawaii scoring threat. The Trojans turned the miscue into Heidari's third field goal of the evening, a 22-yard boot to increase USC's lead to 23-5 with 13:10 to play.
Brenden Daley led Hawaii with a game-high 10 tackles, including four for loss, and also recorded a sack.
NOTES: Graham is the son of 11-year NFL veteran Kent Graham (New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers)... Lee owns or shares 22 team records, including most receptions in a season (118) and most receiving yards in a season (1,721) and a game (345). ... According to, Lee took out a $10 million insurance policy that insures him against a career-ending injury. The report indicated that Lee joined Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater ($10 million) and South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney ($5 million) in protecting his expected future earnings with insurance.

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