USC Football: Is Lane Kiffin Regressing Under Pressure?


Oct. 27, 2012; Tucson, AZ, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley (7) talks with head coach Lane Kiffin during the second half against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats beat the Trojans 39-36. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Despite Huge Numbers, The Offense Is Offensive

With so many expectations heading into the season, you have to wonder if Lane Kiffin has wilted under the pressure.  Being the head football coach at such a prestigious university and a traditional national power like USC, brings with it a tremendous amount of expectations.

It is one thing to know what those expectations are and it is another to actually experience them.  Shortly after Kiffin took the coveted position of head coach at USC, the program was slapped NCAA sanctions that included a 2-year bowl ban and 30 scholarship reductions over 3 years.

These penalties served to lower the expectations of success that would have normally been placed on Kiffin and the Trojan football team.  However, with the Trojans coming off of their bowl ban, the success that Kiffin has had in recruiting despite the NCAA sanctions, and the offensive success the Trojans had last year – the lid was lifted off of the expectations bucket.

Despite putting up statistics comparable to last year, Kiffin has severely regressed as a play caller this year.

When you have the kind of talent that he has in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, there is a temptation to get them the ball on every single play.  Kiffin  hasn’t resisted that temptation and has placed getting individual stats over total offensive success.

Woods and Lee are exceptional talents and they are going to produce if the ball gets in their hands.  However, sometimes less is more.  The offense bogs down if you can’t get the ball to them and Barkley doesn’t seem to have a secondary read in his progression or a check down route.

This would explain why the Trojans are only better than the Colorado Buffaloes in third down conversions in the Pac-12.  The Trojans have only converted 29 of 90 third down attempts (32.2%).  That is 110th in the nation out of 120 teams.  This is a team that was tenth in the nation last year, converting 48.32% of third downs with all the same talent.

For this offense to be truly successful, it can’t be Lee and Woods or bust.  It has to be a collaborative team effort.  The full arsenal has to be involved and has to be a credible threat.  Lee and Woods will give you the big play, but they are not necessarily drive-sustainers.  This hurts the offense and hurts the defense.

The defense was on the field for 94 plays (75 for Arizona’s defense) on Saturday due to the inability of the offense to sustain drives and at times score.  Of USC’s fifteen drives on the day, ten ended in a turnover, punt, end of half, or turnover on downs.  Six of those drives were three plays or less.

After giving up 166 yards on Arizona’s first three drives, the defense gave up a total of 154 yards on the Arizona’s next eight drives.  Playing 94 plays against an up-tempo, no huddle offense will eventually take its toll on the defense.  Not only are they on the field for an excessive amount of plays, they also aren’t getting the normal rest between snaps to catch a breather.

Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Lack Of Discipline

The Trojans are the most undisciplined team in all of FBS.  They lead the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game.  It is often said that a team takes on the personality of their coach.  If this is the case then Kiffin is undisciplined and his team reflects that.  Discipline starts at the top and everyone else needs to fall in line or be removed from the equation.

Penalties of the undisciplined nature can be extremely harmful to a team.  They can stall drives on offense and extend drives on defense.  A perfect example of this on the defensive side of the ball is T.J. McDonald(right) being flagged for taunting after forcing the Wildcats to punt.  What is more disappointing is that McDonald is a team captain and was just lecturing the team about being more disciplined and how these types of penalties hurt the team.

Instead of getting off of the field, the 15-yard penalty gave the Wildcats a first down and the drive resulted in seven points for them.  The margin of victory was three points.  I’m not implying that that one play cost the Trojans the game but it was one play that could have played a significant role in the outcome of the game.

The problems on offense and the lack of team discipline is something that Kiffin is directly accountable for.  Until he fixes both, the Trojans will continue to underachieve despite being the most talented team in the land.  He may want to look at giving up his play calling duties so he can spend more time focusing on all aspects of the program.  The best head coaches are typically “managers” who hire a talented staff to execute their vision and philosophy; to do the coaching, game planning, and play calling.  See Nick Saban and Chip Kelly for examples.  Both great play callers that gave up those duties to focus on the big picture.

Something has to change.