USC Football: Grading Cody Kessler's First 4 Games as a Starter
As USC tries to find its offensive footing in 2013, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler is attempting to do the same.
Kessler, a first-year starter taking over for the departed Matt Barkley, has struggled mightily this year and often looked lost and confused.
As a result, USC's offense has been anemic—in stark contrast to what has been a very stout defense in 2013.
Of course, to blame Kessler solely for the offense's lack of production would be disingenuous. He has had plenty of help on this road to mediocrity.
Starting with an underperforming offensive line that has done little to protect him, even his receivers—including All-American Marqise Lee—have been inconsistent this year.
All of which has contributed to a woeful stat line for Kessler. His 61 percent completion percentage masks an ineffective passing game which hasn't been able to assert itself.
This slideshow will look at Kessler so far in 2013 and offer a grade for his performance in several areas.
How bad has Kessler been and how much of this is his fault?
Here is one person's opinion.
When assessing Cody Kessler's ability in the pocket, it is important to understand that in order to have "presence," you must first have a pocket.
With the offensive line being a major culprit in the Trojans' offensive woes, clean pockets for Kessler to perform in have come at a premium.
Often scrambling for his life, Kessler has not had time to set up his throws on a routine basis, which has compromised his timing with receivers.
Having said that, Kessler has had his opportunities in clean pockets, and has often failed to deliver.
Overall, it is difficult to assess Kessler's ability in this area because shaky pass protection has led to a failure for him to establish a rhythm.
Although Kessler's 61 percent completion percentage is not horrible, it belies his ineffectiveness when it comes to throwing the ball downfield.
When looking at that portion of his game, we see a quarterback who is averaging about seven yards per pass attempt (75 attempts for 537 total yards through the air).
Does this mean that Kessler is an inaccurate passer whose game is better suited to short throws rather than testing opponents downfield? Not necessarily.
The fact of the matter is that there are two things working against Kessler when assessing his accuracy, particularly when throwing medium and long passes.
First, there is the issue that his offensive line isn't giving him time to look for distance passes.
Secondly, there is the guy calling the plays.
Lane Kiffin has refrained from opening the playbook, and has instead had his quarterback throw short passes and checkdowns, which are safe but certainly not conducive to long gains.
Until Kiffin lets his quarterback air it out, we will not know exactly how accurate Kessler truly is.
One of the key arguments made on Kessler's behalf when it came time to choose a starting quarterback was his ability to run and make something out of nothing when the pocket collapsed.
And while the pocket has indeed collapsed with alarming regularity in 2013, Kessler's ability to run with the ball has been strangely absent.
So far this year, Kessler has had 12 rushing attempts for a paltry 17 yards, numbers that certainly don't bolster any contention that he can make things happen with his legs.
And when you factor in sacks, Kessler's rushing total is minus-eight yards.
That won't strike fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators.
It is also difficult to tell how effective a quarterback is in terms of leadership if you are not part of the huddle and can't see how his teammates respond to Kessler.
Therefore, we are left with tangible results. In terms of offensive production, Kessler is leaving much to be desired.
Leading an ineffective offense that has already lost one game and came close to losing another, Kessler simply has not produced when needed.
Of course, there are circumstances which have compromised Kessler's effectiveness. However, until he can come through in the clutch and lead the Trojans to victory on a regular basis, this grade will have to remain low.
Certainly, this "grade" is incomplete based on a very small body of work. Furthermore, that work has been mitigated by circumstances that are largely beyond his control.
Therefore, any grade assigned to Kessler remains incomplete after only four games.
Still, there is enough there to at least determine what young Cody has to work on as the season progresses.
If the Trojans can cure their offensive line woes and Kiffin opens up the playbook, then perhaps we will see a new and improved Cody Kessler.
Until then, he has a way to go. As a result, his overall grade after four games will leave much to be desired.
Overall Grade: D+