While many USC fans were readying their “Fire Kiffin” t-shirts, bloodying their fingers on keyboards with Twitter rants ending in #FireKiffin, and speculating endlessly about who would replace the embattled coach when his inevitable firing came, Lane Kiffin was doing something that few people thought he was capable of doing — making adjustments.
While the media worked themselves into a tizzy over team meetings that didn’t happen, then did happen, then didn’t, Kiffin was installing a game plan that would prove their declarations of Troy’s, and the head coach’s, demise premature.
The Kiffin of Boston College and the Kiffin of Washington State were not all that dissimilar, but they were miles apart in all the right ways.
The Kiffin of Washington State was stubborn. Unwilling to change the script, he plugged along with an overly conservative offensive scheme that was clearly out of its depth. His quarterbacks were woefully unprepared and neither looked comfortable leading the team at any moment. He stood on the sideline aloof while bubble screen after bubble screen, swing pass after swing pass came with the increasing ire of the Coliseum as the USC offense sputtered again and again.
The Kiffin of Boston College was no less conservative, choosing to rely on the strength of the running game behind Tre Madden. However, he did so in ways that got the most out of every aspect of the offense instead of just one.
Kiffin reinvented Cody Kessler, who looked far from the part of USC QB in the first two games. This time, he gave him all the tools to shine with shotgun, play action and roll outs to bring out the best in the Trojan signal caller.
Kessler showed his increased comfort level outside the pocket and on the run by hitting five straight completions to five different receivers culminating in a five-yard touchdown pass to Madden to give the Trojans a lead they would never relinquish.
USC got production out of underutilized talent like tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble, while realizing that fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner can indeed be valid offensive weapons in the passing game.
The new game plan also benefited Marqise Lee, who proved just how dangerous he can be when he gets the ball in the open field by taking a midrange pass from Kessler 80 yards to the house.
“I was just so excited for that kid, ” Kiffin said after the game. “I’m usually pretty reserved, but I really couldn’t hold myself in because I was so excited for these guys. What they have been through in the last seven days has been hell. To have them have some success, I just felt so good for them.”
It had to feel good for himself as well, because for the first time this season it looked like Kiffin was having fun. That’s important because attitude really does reflect leadership as the famous movie quote goes and Kiffin’s attitude before this game was not what it needed to be. Instead of going out to win games, he geared the offense towards not losing. This week he flipped the switch and the players responded, the fans responded and yes, the coach responded.
So don’t throw your visors away just yet. It may be too early to know for sure if Kiffin and the Trojans have indeed turned a corner, but for this week at least, Kiffin deserves every bit of praise he receives.