Since he became USC’s offensive coordinator in 2005, Lane Kiffin has been associated with offensive creativity and has been alluded to as being an offensive genius. But in reality, he’s not. And really, he’s one of the most inconsistent play callers in college football, as brief instances of offensive brilliance define his potential as elite, while long stretches of struggles mask his upside and provide frustration. Basically, he’s Andrew Bynum.
Kiffin’s play calling has been a hot button topic of conversation this year, and it should be. With an offense that was so dynamic in late 2011 and with so many returners in 2012, the Trojans were supposed to blow opponents away and outscore everyone. Yet, five games into the season, USC is 37th nationally in scoring and 48th in total offense.
The first half of the Trojans’ season to date has been full of bubble screens and under-utilized tight ends. It’s been full of struggles on third down, as only seven teams in the country have had fewer conversions, and yes, two of those teams play in the SEC.
USC has just been wildly inconsistent on offense and it really comes down to the play calling, as Kiffin just isn’t calling the same game in 2012 as he was in 2011. He’ll tell you it’s the ‘cloud coverage’ that Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are getting, forcing him to burn his tight ends as decoys on deep routes, but it’s not just that.
Kiffin is just inconsistent. And just like Bynum, he’ll whet your appetite and show you why he’s in the position he is, which in reality only leads to questions regarding the struggles and inconsistency that leave you wanting more.
For example, when the Trojans played Utah in Salt Lake City last Thursday, it was a tale of two halves for Kiffin’s play calling.
In the first half, he called a student body right on 3rd and 7 in the red zone, and ignored his inner-Norm Chow by calling a dive play up the middle following a turnover, as opposed to taking a shot down field and going for the jugular.
It may have been Kiffin at his absolute worst in terms of play calling, and yet in the second half, his offense averaged eight yards per play and were finally executing the plays they planned to set up.
Kiffin used a third quarter predicated on establishing the run to open up the playbook. He called play action passes and they worked. He had Barkley roll out and pick up first downs. He dialed up the deep ball and the Trojans executed. It was sexy football.
It wasn’t just that USC’s offensive line found a way to neutralize Star Lotulelei or the fact that Marqise Lee was able to get open in the secondary. It was the progression of play calls in the second half that made the Trojans successful.
It was USC’s offense as it was expected to be in the preseason, and yet it was following a first half in which the Trojans averaged 2.8 yards per carry.
It was a moment when you had to sit back and wonder what exactly it was that allowed Kiffin to flip on the switch and call plays as they were meant to be called.
Why can’t his play calling always be so dynamic? Why can’t Andrew Bynum always play like an elite center?
The Lakers were tired of answering that question and found themselves a way to get Dwight Howard. USC doesn’t exactly have the luxury of finding an offensive coordinator, but that doesn’t mean that Lane Kiffin wouldn’t be a better coach if they did. He’d have a chance to be one of the best of the coaches in the nation outright if he was able to find a play caller other than himself.
Even despite the times Kiffin calls a gem, his high peaks aren’t worth his low valleys and a consistent Dwight Howard-type offensive coordinator would allow Kiffin to be a more well-rounded head coach, especially since he excels in areas that Nick Saban approves of, such as a remarkable ability to recruit and a nifty knack of pissing off the media.
A head coach calling plays is a great idea in theory, but maybe Lane Kiffin’s stretches of bad play calling just explains why Charlie Weis and Jeff Tedford aren’t the most highly acclaimed head coaches.
But then again, Kiffin called a sexy second half against Utah. Damn you, Andrew Bynum.