Last month, it appeared as though Lane Kiffin could be scrubbing the game film in the hopes that David Shaw and the Stanford Cardinal would have no idea what the Trojans would be doing on offense. At the time, it made sense. Kiffin was dialing up screens like they were going out of style against Syracuse, and Matt Barkley wasn’t throwing deep balls.
Fast forward five weeks and it’s apparent that the play calling was not aimed at Stanford. What’s emerged however, is a pattern that seems to be creating an over-arcing systematic process for the season, or what can be dubbed as Lane Kiffin’s master plan.
He’s prevented reporters from reporting anything seen in practice and he’s has been tight-lipped on everything from injuries, scholarships, player numbers and providing an answer for why running student body right on 3rd and 7 makes sense.
When Kiffin is talking to the media, he’s now making excuses and going back to the fundamentals of winning, as opposed to the Kiffin of old that was more concerned with getting Barkley 39 touchdowns and making sure that Robert Woods broke records for receptions in a game and a season.
As Kiffin spoke to the media on Saturday night however, he provided a clue to the master plan.
He not only emphasized the importance and difficulty of the second half, but he admitted his concerns for not repeating the situations against Stanford that ultimately lost the Trojans the game, mainly alluding to injuries and a lack of preparation.
The Kiffin of last season would have scoffed at the idea of winning on the scoreboard and would have been adamant that the passing game wasn’t up to snuff.
The Kiffin of last year would have called out players. The Kiffin of this year is sticking to cliches.
Perhaps Kiffin is not only scrubbing game film, but maybe he’s enacting a full-on psychological attack on the game this year that is rooted in paranoia, masterminding and even more paranoia.
Following Saturday’s win, Kiffin told reporters that he opted for a conservative approach on third down to protect his team’s health, not necessarily to protect his team’s field position or protect the ball.
“There were a few really long situations on third down and the last thing I wanted to do in this environment was to sit there, drop back, and let these guys rush us so the quarterback could get hit,” said Kiffin. “Once again, [we were] going with our gameplan and feeling our defense was going to play well, and going back to that Stanford road game, there’s some times that I was getting Matt hit those situations and I made sure that I didn’t do that today.”
On the surface, that’s a fair rationale. In reality however, Washington came in generating just three sacks since Week 1, and they were 11th in the Pac-12 against the run, as their defensive weakness was surely their defensive line.
Was he merely masking his play calling by enshrouding it in fallacy? Of course he was. That’s been his mantra all season long. He’s not going to give the straight answers, he’s not going to call games the way you’d expect and he’s not going let the offense look like it’s 2011 just yet.
Instead, he’s going to do things like give Alex Wood the same number as Andre Heidari to mask an injury, and he’s going to run on every third down in hopes that teams can’t get the book on the USC offense.
It really comes down to Kiffin being highly concerned at the circumstances surrounding the team. He’s spoken at length about how much of a disadvantage the Trojans are with a reduced roster, and the loss to Stanford has forced USC to need to be perfect to salvage a National Championship run.
Kiffin’s way of fighting the pressure is lining up and playing not to lose, as opposed to playing to win.
Like a pitcher and catcher chatting through their gloves, his way is predicated on going to great lengths to master the art of deception. Or at least Kiffin’s attempting to master it.
And if it is really his plan is to use a gag order on the media, while completely striping down the offense to stay healthy and unpredictable for the rough stretch including Oregon, it’s a bold and brazen move that seems a little more than borderline crazy.
He’s parlaying spontaneity by being ultra-predictable and it nearly cost the Trojans against Washington, despite ‘the gameplan’ working.
Though, maybe Kiffin is just showing us exactly who he is: a wildly conservative and worrisome offensive coordinator without an effective plan for deception. Then again, that would mean that he was deceptive last season, as he convinced the world that he was an upper-echleon play caller in the last six games of the season.
Here he is again, with six games left to prove which way the deception lies.