No. 19 USC requires a quick rebound from early-season loss
Yet if the No. 19 Trojans (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) lose their second consecutive conference game when they visit Arizona State on Saturday, they realize their season will have fallen apart even before September ends.
Kessler doesn't see tension in this scenario. He only sees opportunities for fun.
''I'm excited. I've always loved road games,'' Kessler said after practice on campus Tuesday.
''Don't get me wrong, the Coliseum is great,'' added the quarterback, who ranks third in the nation in pass efficiency. ''But I'm a big fan of away games when you're the underdog and you go in there, and there's automatically adversity about you when you step on the field. It's going to be fun.''
The Trojans are fully aware of the lofty expectations placed on the shoulders of anybody in a cardinal-and-gold jersey. They realize their 41-31 loss to Stanford last weekend was a crushing disappointment for fans expecting a return to championship form in coach Steve Sarkisian's second season.
''We didn't expect to lose, but we've got to move on,'' said rushing leader Tre Madden, who was limited in practice due to a calf injury. ''All of our goals are still in front of us.''
And though the offensive players gamely parroted the usual lines about complete team losses and victories, it seems clear that the defense has more homework to do.
Stanford shredded the USC defense for 474 methodical yards, converting eight of 12 third downs and holding the ball for nearly 39 1-2 minutes. The Cardinal's dominant ball possession while scoring points on seven of eight drives meant that Kessler's offense could only run 60 plays, dramatically limiting its ability to match Stanford's scoring.
USC's inability to get pressure on Kevin Hogan allowed the Cardinal quarterback to pick apart the defense with his arm or legs. The Trojans' blitzes appeared to be sparing and ineffective, and Hogan repeatedly escaped pressure even when it reached him.
The entire scenario could be disastrous against Arizona State's Mike Bercovici, who presents similar challenges. He also led the Sun Devils to a victory over USC last season on a Hail Mary to Jaelen Strong at the Coliseum.
But the only sign of tension in the Trojans' first practice of the week was linebacker Su'a Cravens' pointed refusal to talk about the Stanford loss. Cravens likely had the best individual game on the USC defense, making a team-leading 13 tackles and getting a sack.
''We already forgot what happened,'' Cravens said. ''We're playing a (Pac-12) South opponent this week, and that's all that matters. ... We've just got to execute. A lot of people say it's the coaches, but sometimes it's the players. We've just got to exercise our assignments.''
Kessler remains optimistic that his senior season will live up to expectations. He certainly seems to be doing his part, going 70 for 89 with 922 yards and 10 touchdowns already.
''He's playing really good for us right now,'' Sarkisian said. ''And to his credit, he has fixed some of the things that we wanted to work on after the first game. Livening his feet up, his feet have been better. He's throwing the deep ball really well right now. ... I don't know what more we could really ask of the guy. He's playing at a high level.''