Posted September 08, 2013

USC stuck in neutral after home loss to Washington State

Lane Kiffin, USC Trojans
Dre Madden was the lone bright spot for USC with 147 rushing yards against Washington State (Chris Carlson/AP)

Dre Madden was the lone bright spot for USC with 147 rushing yards against Washington State (Chris Carlson/AP)

We had a feeling that USC wasn’t headed the right direction in 2012, when a preseason top-five team stumbled all the way to a 7-6 record. We watched those struggles continue in USC’s opening game of 2013, when Hawaii briefly led the men of Troy 5-2 in the first quarter before the Trojans finally found their footing in an otherwise ugly contest. But it seemed most believed that, in the end, it would turn around. This is USC, after all.

But Saturday in Los Angeles might end up being the turning point in the ongoing drama of “As The Trojans Turn.” No. 25 USC’s lukewarm 10-7 loss to Washington State at the Coliseum was perhaps the best indicator thus far that this once-proud program is stuck in neutral.

The Trojans let a mediocre Cougars squad, at best, venture to L.A. and stifle their roster into an upset. Coach Lane Kiffin, the leader of a program once headlined by prolific passers such as Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez and Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley, spearheaded an offensive attack that mustered only 51 passing yards between two new quarterbacks, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. And this passing deficiency took place with last season’s Biletnikoff Award winner, receiver Marqise Lee, on the edge; Lee would catch eight balls for only 29 yards against the Cougars.

Even the roster’s bright spot on the night — running back Dre Madden, who rushed for 147 yards on 31 carries — felt like a fairly empty effort. Madden failed to reach the end zone against Washington State, as a four-yard touchdown run by Kessler in the second quarter marked the Trojans’ only trip to the end zone.

Kiffin entered the season with a large target on his back. The pressure was on at Southern Cal, where Kiffin walked into an enviable situation on his first year on the job in 2010. Even with NCAA sanctions looming from former coach Pete Carroll’s regime, the prestige put forth by the USC program served as its own recruiting tool, and its geographical location as the primary program in California aided those efforts in luring the West Coast’s top talent.

But now we’re witnessing a situation where, three years later, the Trojans’ once daunting home-field advantage is being infiltrated by the likes of Washington State. The Cougars, you might recall, finished 3-9 last season in Mike Leach’s first year on the job with one of the country’s worst offenses. At USC, the position of quarterback doesn’t seem to be the defining role it once was, especially as Kiffin continues to keep his quarterback preferences under wraps from the public and, sometimes, even his own team. Last season, the scapegoat for the Trojans’ problems was their defense, and Kiffin’s own father, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, left the program in the offseason. But now the offense seems just as much in flux, despite talents like Lee on the roster.

The question is how Kiffin and the Trojans can grow from here, because the Pac-12 is developing all around them. Jim Mora Jr. has UCLA riding on high expectations just across town from USC. Arizona State is considered by many to be a sleeper in the conference with its talent on defense. Then, of course, there’s the established powers like Oregon and Stanford, who aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and USC still must face the Bruins, Cardinal and Sun Devils this season.

On Saturday USA Today’s Dan Wolken brought up a good point on Twitter regarding USC. “The word ‘unacceptable’ is thrown around a lot but rarely is it meant literally,” Wolken posted. “With Texas and USC, it is. This cannot be accepted.” Kiffin holds the reins to a program that is expected to compete for national championships, and unlike many places, that expectation is reasonable. But on Saturday, the Trojans were exposed as anything but contenders, and there’s very little indication that the program is on an upward climb.

24 comments
Ciscos
Ciscos

The problem is when  you have QBs splitting reps because you can't decide, neither are getting enough reps.  So in basic football psychology 101, a QB not getting enough reps is going to be nervous.  As a HC, I don't want my QB nervous.  Nervous QBs make "nervous" mistakes... They throw to early, throw to late, make poor reads and stare down their WRs.  In not deciding on a QB, Kiffin is actually making the situation worse.  If he can't get that passing game going, then USC can expect teams to line up with 8 in the box, stopping the run and forcing them to pass.

This is all very unreal for a college HC to put his QBs in a can't win situation.

mystafugee
mystafugee

In defense of Kiffin's  hire, it made sense at the time, a guy with ties to the glory days coaching at an upper-tier (at the time) SEC school.  

mystafugee
mystafugee

Neutral!?!?  This is reverse, losing to Washington State AT home in the HOME OPENER.  This is losing to a Mike Leach team that couldn't score an offensive touchdown and yet STILL WON.  

Merv
Merv

Primary program in California?  Maybe the fifth best program in California.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

So are Trojan fans finally waking up in regard to Kiffin?  If the guy didn't have a famous dad, he wouldn't have a head-coaching career, period.   

As it is, he's burned so many bridges with previous gigs that after USC fires him, he's probably permanently done as a head-coach in college or the pros.

RCH
RCH

It wouldn't bother Kiffin if he was shown the door since their are plenty of programs out there just dying to hire this proven winner! /sarcasm off

PerroViejo
PerroViejo

I dislike to say it - blaming a coach is very easy - but it seems that while USC coach Lane Kiffin may be a very good recruiter he has yet to demonstrate that he is an adequate game coach. I fully understand that USC is still under NCAA scholarship restrictions and that their depth is suspect, but there is little flair or imagination to their game and it is even a bit unclear whether the players are actually enjoying playing.

Cool
Cool

The difference in last nights game?  Well let's take a look under the hood and see if we can see the problem.  One team with poor coach and top rated players in the nation loses to good coach with players not highly recruited by other schools.  It appears that having a good coach with mediocre players is better than poor coach with great players.  A good AD would recognize this and correct the problem... less emphasis on top recruits and more emphasis on getting a good coach.   

Beachgrad05
Beachgrad05

Reporter can't even be bothered to get TRE Madden's name right.

Buzz Menzies
Buzz Menzies

It's way past time to blame everything on limited scholarships. We keep hearing about the starting talent at SC---then watch that starting talent unravel game after game. And then listen to people blame it on lack of scholarships. It seems utterly obvious to everyone that the problem is the coach---except for Pat Haden. If this is an example of Haden's decision making, then it's time to consider a new AD as well as a new coach. At least force Kiffin to give up play calling for the remainder of this his final season. That's so bad it would embarrass a Pop Warner coach. But the sooner they get rid of him, the better for the future. And consider using Max Browne. It's obvious the other two QBs aren't going to cut it...

otherworld
otherworld

Does not look good for the Trojans. 

NeoSmith
NeoSmith

USC deserves EVERY slight, criticism, and contempt directed its way.  They hired a coach that had proven ONLY one thing over his career, that he would destroy a program if it meant he could get a better pay check.  The integrity of this scum bag is beneath troubling: 1) He fired his dad to save his own neck.  2) He left a Tennessee program worst off than he found it after 1 year.  

 He hasn't ever shown he could coach in his life.  And now he has shown that he can't recruit worth a damn.  Tennessee fans are laughing their asses off right about ..... NOW!

Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

Playing like they're being coached by Rex Ryan and Co., that's what Mr. Kiffin has done to USC. It's a laughing stock now.

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

Kiffin can always get a job with Rex Ryan after the season, they'll both be looking

Hendo
Hendo

"Prolific passers such as Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez and Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley"....hilarious.

meats29
meats29

I really don't know how Kiffin and Mack Brown still have jobs. They are the most overrated coaches i have ever seen. You can throw Bob Stoops in there too. 

porovaara
porovaara

What crack are you on? That is a good Washington State team. Calling them "mediocre at best" is pretty disingenuous.

Cool
Cool

@RCH The only sad part of your sarcasm is that there are still schools who probably would hire him.  Look at Weiss as a college coach.. and yet he gets scooped up in no time.

LoriSandoval
LoriSandoval

@Hendo Actually they were all very good college QBs.  My question is why Kiffin can't develop Wittek and Kessler into, at least, adequate college QBs.  Both were four star recruits and were the #2 and #3, QBs (by Rival.com) in the nation. 51 passing yards for the whole game between them?  That was an average of 4 yards per completion.  Yikes!

The Dude
The Dude

@meats29 I strongl disagree. Lanie -boy is not overrated. I don't think anyone rates him above pond scum  ... oh wait I guess you are right. Pond scum can serve a useful purpose.

Rick57
Rick57

@porovaara You are correct, calling WSU mediocre is disingenuous. They completely suck, mediocre would be a vast improvement.

RipsNordic
RipsNordic

@no_haters @Hendo All those qb's are trash with the exception of Palmer, he's the only one of those qb's who have made it. But he still sucks

NWesterner
NWesterner

@Rick57 @porovaara   You are an idiot.  This is a much improved Cougar team.  Not great, but heading in the right direction.