USC's offense fell flat this year, but their defense was an even bigger problem. No. 1 Notre Dame is known for playing tough defense, but their offense was able to do enough to defeat USC's below average defense. Notre Dame started the season unranked and finished No. 1. USC started the season No. 1 and finished unranked. Photo by Jeff Lewis
USC lost to both UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season for the first time since 1995, they were 0-4 against top 25 teams, they will be the first preseason No. 1 team to finish unranked since 1964, and their five losses are the most by a preseason No. 1 team ever (Mississippi in 1964 also had five losses). Graphic from ESPN.com
USC did not live up to any of their expectations.
This year’s USC Trojans football team had all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster.
They had the high-profile director in Lane Kiffin. They had the charismatic leading man in Heisman Trophy contender Matt Barkley. They had a supporting cast filled with five-star and four-star talent, headlined by Robert Woods (Serra High School) and Marqise Lee (Serra High School). There was even a captivating storyline: fresh off a two-year postseason ban imposed by the big, bad NCAA, USC was the top-ranked team in the country and poised to win it all.
And yet, things didn’t go according to the script. Instead of preparing for the conference championship as a mere formality to the BCS title game, the preseason-favorite Trojans are at home, at 7-5, and wondering how they let it all slip away.
Well, No. 1 teams don’t go 0-4 against ranked opponents. No. 1 teams don’t finish the season outside of the polls. No. 1 teams don’t go bowling in West Texas.
All of which begs the question, were the Trojans really that good to begin with?
Perhaps the answer to this could best be gleaned from the press conference after Saturday’s regular season finale.
“They got a bunch of really good seniors and you could see their leadership today,” Kiffin said of Notre Dame after Saturday’s 22-13 loss.
That pretty much says it all.
For all of USC’s talent, for all of the record-setting individual performances, for all of the stratospheric hype, it doesn’t mean anything if the leaders can’t get it done.
This extends beyond the players on the field, like team captains Barkley and T.J. McDonald, who both risked their NFL draft stock for a shot at collegiate infamy. This disastrous season has as much to do with the men wearing the headsets as it does the men wearing the helmets.
As a head coach, Kiffin has not delivered. Granted the loss of Matt Kalil to the NFL and the injury of center Khaled Holmes on the offensive line sparked the domino effect of unfavorable mismatches leading to increased pressure on Barkley leading to more mistakes, Kiffin is supposed to overcome this. That’s why he makes $4 million a year.
Adding insult to injury is the lack of discipline shown by this team, as evidenced by their 8.5 penalties per game, fifth most in the country. Combine that with Kiffin’s questionable play calling, and one wonders why AD Pat Haden reportedly assured Kiffin of his job security prior to the UCLA game, a game the team proceeded to lose.
As a defensive coordinator, Kiffin’s father, Monte, has done even worse than his son. In his three years the defense has ranked no higher than 53rd in the country. This year against the spread offenses of Oregon and Arizona, the Trojans surrendered at least 600 total yards to each.
It remains to be seen if the elder Kiffin will return. For this team to get better, though, a change has to be made.
The addition of Silas Redd was supposed to give USC a two-headed monster in the backfield. Redd and Curtis McNeal (Venice High School) had each eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing a season ago. Instead, the team produced just as many rushing touchdowns as last year (12), and only 91 more rushing yards. Neither Redd nor McNeal rushed for more than 820 yards.
The Trojans are not a power running team, and it showed on their goal line failure against the Irish. Under Kiffin, USC’s red zone efficiency has dropped each of the past three years: from 83 percent in 2010, to 80 percent in 2011, to 77 percent in 2012.
With Barkley and McDonald headed to the pros, and juniors Woods and Nickell Robey possibly joining them, next year’s squad will need some new leadership, but they won’t have to look far.
“[I] definitely got a lot of great experience out there today, against a great defense,” quarterback Max Wittek said of his first career start.
The redshirt freshman had the kind of performance one would expect from a guy who’s never started before in college at the game’s most important position, throwing two interceptions and missing receivers. Yet with his arm strength, and an off-season of first team reps, there is reason for optimism.
Despite being in the midst of scholarship limits, USC still seems poised to finish with a top recruiting class. And while a national championship doesn’t seem likely, maybe next year’s incoming class, along with the returning players, and possibly a new defensive scheme, can provide better results.
Because in this town, another bomb simply won’t do.
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