LOS ANGELES — A week that began with turmoil off the field ended with a record night on it for No. 15 Southern California.
Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another TD and the Trojans won Steve Sarkisian’s USC debut in commanding fashion, beating Fresno State 52-13 on Saturday night.
The Trojans ran a school- and Pac-12-record 105 plays while racking up 37 first downs and 701 yards of total offense to Fresno State’s 17 first downs and 317 yards.
“We were shooting for 80 plays,” Kessler said, although Sarkisian knew that playing a no-huddle team in the Bulldogs would probably up that number.
For USC, the victory came at the end of a distracting week for Sarkisian, punctuated by a tale of heroism by suspended defensive captain Josh Shaw that turned out to be a lie. Backup running back Anthony Brown also quit the team and called Sarkisian a racist, an allegation the coach and other players vehemently denied.
“Nowhere in the coaching manual do you turn to section 1302 and see how to deal with it,” Sarkisian said, “you just handle it.”
Kessler said he knew they would. “We went through so much last year (four different head coaches in 65 days), we can handle anything.”
Sarkisian said they didn’t talk about it more than twice all week and he decided at a mid-day staff meeting he didn’t have to say anything to this team. “They were ready to play,” he said.
The Trojans scored early and kept going, with Nelson Agholor leading the way with two first-half touchdown grabs. He finished with five catches on the night for 57 yards.
In all, 10 different Trojans caught passes in Sarkisian’s up-tempo offense.
Freshmen played a prominent part in the game as tight end Bryce Dixon and two-way player Adoree Jackson each had TD catches. Freshman JuJu Smith had four catches for 123 yards.
Javorius Allen led the USC ground attack with 133 yards on 22 carries, including a nine-yard scoring run. Justin Davis added 30 yards on 12 carries and Jame Toland IV had 47 yards on 12 carries.
The loss was the Bulldogs’ third straight in the series with USC.
Fresno State alternated quarterbacks Brian Burrell and Duke transfer Brandon Connette. Burrell was 11 of 19 with one interception and was the more productive of the two. Connette finished 7 of 17 for 68 yards with three interceptions.
Tailback Marteze Waller scored both touchdowns for the Bulldogs. He finished with 97 yards on 16 carries.
“Well, obviously, we didn’t come ready to play to beat an excellent USC team,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We got outcoached and outplayed. You have to give them a lot of credit. … We’re not ready at this point to compete against a team like USC.”