No. 24 USC relies heavily on its defense to beat Hawaii in opener
HONOLULU -- Justin Davis ran for 74 yards and a touchdown and No. 24 USC's defense picked up for its shaky offense, masking mixed performances by battling quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek in a 30-13 win over Hawaii on Thursday night.
Kessler salvaged a bad start with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor then gave way to Wittek early in the third quarter as the teammates took turns auditioning for the Trojans' starting job.
Wittek played more of a manager's role, handing off to Davis more often than throwing. He completed 5 of 10 passes for 77 yards.
Neither Kessler nor Wittek did enough to make a starting choice clear for coach Lane Kiffin.
USC's defense intercepted Hawaii quarterback Taylor Graham four times and sacked him seven times, directly setting up each USC score.
Tre Madden had 18 carries for 109 yards while starting for injured Silas Redd.
Star wide receiver Marqise Lee had eight catches for 104 yards, mostly in the second half, for the Trojans, who failed to score in the third quarter after entering the game a 23-point favorite.
Kessler played the entire first half and the first drive of the second, finishing 10 of 19 for 95 yards. Despite several overthrows, batted passes and an interception, Kessler's touchdown gave USC the lead for good and he spent slightly more time on the field than Max Wittek after Kiffin said the players would split work.
But Kessler failed to get Lee the ball until 6 minutes into the second quarter.
Lee -- who finished fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy last year -- was visibly frustrated after several plays. He dropped a fourth-down pass that would have given USC a first-and-goal on its first drive. In the second quarter, he picked up a bouncing punt and began to run toward the left sideline to get around defenders, but fumbled and turned the ball over to Hawaii on USC's 33 yard line. Late in the fourth quarter, he dropped a downfield pass from Wittek that was slightly underthrown, but still catchable.
After his fumble, Lee scowled on the Trojans' sideline with his yellow mouthpiece hanging from his open mouth.
Hawaii's defense kept the Rainbow Warriors in contention until USC scored two touchdowns in the span of 89 seconds in the second quarter. Hawaii sacked Kessler in the end zone for a safety to put its first points on the board, then got a field goal on the next drive to take a 5-3 lead.