The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have punched their ticket to a BCS National Championship Game berth in Miami on the hoof an historic goal line stand of the Trojans late in the fourth quarter on Saturday night. But with the Trojans failing to score on eight plays from inside the two yard line, there’s plenty of questions left to be answered by USC head coach and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
1. Down nine points and with the game clock draining rapidly, why opt to go for it on fourth down instead of taking the points and playing for an onside kick?
Last week, the Trojans were down 10 points in the fourth quarter when Lane Kiffin decided to kick a 38-yard field goal on 4th and 7 with 1:34 left. With weather playing a factor, in addition to Andre Heidari’s ineffectiveness in mid-to-long range kicks, Kiffin could have kept trying to score a touchdown as opposed to having faith in a kicking game that has let the Trojans down this season. The kick was blocked and UCLA won the game.
On Saturday night against Notre Dame, Kiffin was vaguely in the same position, but at the 1-yard line and down just nine points, albeit to the No. 1 team in the country, with the No. 1 scoring defense. Given the way the Trojans couldn’t gain any leverage at the line of scrimmage at goal line against the physical defensive line of the Irish, taking the points with a Heidari chip shot and playing for an onside kick would have been not only a safer decision than going for it, a field goal in that proximity had more of a chance to go through the uprights than getting a yard against Manti Te’o and company.
The Trojans have the most innovative special teams coach in the country in John Baxter, and as seen against Oregon, the was a significant chance that they could recover an onside kick.
With that in mind, there was no need to risk the entire game by going for it on fourth down and creating a ‘do or die’ play when Kiffin didn’t have to. Take the chance of a blocked kick or a bad snap and kick the field goal there.