LOS ANGELES (AP) Cody Kessler passed for 236 yards and four touchdowns, Tre Madden rushed for 106 yards and a score, and No. 8 Southern California beat Arkansas State 55-6 Saturday night in its season opener.
Madden, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steven Mitchell Jr. and Oklahoma transfer Taylor McNamara caught TD passes from Kessler in the Trojans' first game since the official end of NCAA scholarship restrictions on the perennial power.
Kessler went 19 for 26 with no turnovers to begin his third season as USC's starter. Although he was sacked five times, the senior steadily led the Trojans to a 36-point lead before taking the fourth quarter off.
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Chris Hawkins made an interception and recovered a fumble for the Trojans. Su'a Cravens also picked off a throw from Fredi Knighten, who went 8 for 23 for Arkansas State.
Adoree Jackson, who plays defensive back and receiver for USC, pulled up short during a kick return and sat out the second half with an abdominal strain.
Michael Gordon rushed for the only touchdown for the Red Wolves, who have made four straight bowl games. Arkansas State couldn't keep up with USC's elite playmakers, but still bothered Kessler after recording 37 sacks last season.
The past three USC teams played with significant limitations on scholarship players under NCAA sanctions stemming from the saga involving former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. After signing the nation's top-rated recruiting class in February, the Trojans are beginning this season with 81 scholarship players, up from 67 last season.
While the Trojans still don't have experienced depth across their roster, they're getting closer - and they've got the poised Kessler in charge.
The Trojans started quickly, just as Kessler had hoped. Smith-Schuster took a short pass around the corner of the defense for a 61-yard score on USC's fourth play, and Mitchell caught a 14-yard TD pass to end the quarter.
Madden then broke a 65-yard run in the second quarter for his first rushing touchdown since Sept. 28, 2013. The senior missed two of the past three seasons with injuries, but recovered to reclaim the starting job at Tailback U.
After McNamara scored in his first game at USC, Madden added an 8-yard TD catch in the third quarter. Freshman Ronald Jones II made a 44-yard run for his first touchdown late in the third, pushing USC's lead to 42-6.
USC freshman linebacker Osa Masina returned a lateral pass 46 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Aca'Cedric Ware became the Trojans' third freshman to score when he rushed for a final TD with 4:16 left.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org