Colorado defense can't stop Kessler in No. 22 USC's 56-28 victory

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LOS ANGELES — Plenty of records have been set since Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011. Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, those marks have too often come at their expense.

Matt Barkley set the Southern California record with six touchdown passes when the schools first met as conference opponents that season, and he matched the feat at the Coliseum in 2012.

Cody Kessler did his former teammate one better Saturday, throwing seven touchdown passes in No. 22 Southern California's 56-28 victory over Colorado to break the school record.

"He was too good today," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "USC played a good game, to say the least, and we gave them too many opportunities in the first half."

Nelson Agholor caught three TD passes from Kessler, who passed the record on Steven Mitchell's diving 24-yard TD in the third quarter of a blowout victory for the Trojans (5-2, 4-1 Pac-12).

Kessler found Agholor for touchdown passes of 16 yards on USC's opening possession. He then hit Agholor from 18 yards out, just six plays after linebacker Su'a Cravens intercepted Sefo Liufau's first pass attempt.

"They kicked us good, but I also think that three or four plays that were bonehead mistakes by us really got them out quicker," MacIntyre said.

"We can't put ourselves in that position or what happened today is going to happen every time," wide receiver Nelson Spruce said.

Liufau had 143 yards passing with two interceptions before being replaced on the final drive of the third quarter by Jordan Gehrke, and Spruce and Shay Fields each caught TD passes.

"We did a good job to keep fighting," Spruce said. "I don't think we ever gave in, but when you're spotting a team like that that many points it's going to be obviously tough."

Spruce tied the Colorado season record set by Derek McCoy in 2003 with 11 TD catches and moved into second place on the career receptions list, passing Michael Westbrook with 170 catches.

Spruce, who grew up in the north Los Angeles suburb of Westlake Village, caught nine passes for 69 yards and threw a 17-yard pass to Liufau to set up a second-quarter touchdown run by Michael Adkins.

Freshmen JuJu Smith and Bryce Dixon added scoring receptions from 7 and 15 yards out as Kessler went 11 of 14 for 159 yards and four touchdowns in the first quarter as USC raced out to a 28-0 lead while much of the homecoming crowd was still filing in.

Kessler finished 17 of 24 for 318 yards.

"We coach this guy harder than any other guy on our team, and he accepts it, and he comes to work every day with the mindset to get better," USC coach Steve Sarkisian said.

With a 9-yard pass to Dixon late in the second quarter, Kessler became the third USC quarterback to throw five touchdown passes in the first half. Barkley did it on three occasions, while Mark Sanchez hit that mark in 2008.

Barkley threw six TD passes in four different games.

Kessler also became the first Pac-12 quarterback to throw seven TD passes in the first three quarters of a game, and the junior tied the conference record for TD passes in a non-overtime game.

Agholor added his third TD reception early in the third quarter, finishing with six catches for 128 yards. Smith had four receptions for 104 yards, and Allen added 128 yards rushing on 15 carries, scoring on a 39-yard run.

"When you are a team that believes in running the football, you have to make defenses pay for loading the box, you have to have the ability to throw the ball down the field. When you have those two things going for you, then life is good," Sarkisian said.

Life was anything but for Colorado (2-5, 0-4), which carried over none of the improvement from one score defeats in its last two Pac-12 games.

"We thought we were taking all the steps in the right direction these past two games, but maybe the bye week hurt us in a sense that we got too relaxed," Spruce said. "We came out flat and made some mistakes, and the game was over from the start."

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