By Rock Mayock 11:00 a.m. | In an annual pattern that seems to itself, USC once again found itself upset by a team that it should have thoroughly dominated in all three facets of the game. Saturday’s not altogether stunning 21-14 loss to the Stanford Cardinal has proven that the early season concerns expressed by the FOOTBALLPHDS were 100% accurate. With input from both Darryl “DoubleTap” Jenkins III who was on site in Palo Alto as well as Jaboner Jackson who watched the game via on-streaming, we will break down exactly what went wrong and why.
1. USC’s offensive troubles started in the third quarter of last weekend’s game against Syracuse when C Khaled Holmes went down with a bad right leg/knee/ankle (for more on USC injury disclosure issues read here). Holmes’ replacement, true freshman Cyrus Hobbi, was abused by Stanford all night long. Stanford was able to get consistent pressure up the middle with their front four often pushing Hobbi into Barkley immediately after the ball was snapped. Their front 7 were also able to shoot the A and B gaps to keep Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd bottled up. This situation won’t get any better until one of three things happens. USC hires a shaman to magically heal Holmes’ leg. They have Hobbi and another player trade places along the line. Kiffin develops new pass blocking schemes, perhaps something that utilizes a blocking Tight End, a blocking Full Back or both.
2. Kiffin was completely outclassed by David Shaw. In the texted words of DoubleTap Jenkins “How bad did he just get outcoached?” By the end of the game Shaw had performed the equivalent of a coaching bukkake all over Kiffin. Shaw used a combination of screen passes and simple power runs (draw plays and off tackle) to overwhelm an aggressive and poor tackling USC defense. Shaw also played a combination of bump and run and physical man coverage on Marqise Lee and Robert Woods to take “the best receiving tandem in the history of college football” out of the game. The most brilliant thing Shaw did was make sure that somebody placed either a helmet or pads on Barkley after every single USC offensive snap. By the middle of the second quarter Barkley’s feet were happy and his passes off rhythm/inaccurate. The net result was 4 sacks, 2 INTs and limiting the USC offense to 26 total rushing yards. Point, set, match, Bukkake; Shaw.
3. Lane Kiffin remains a very suspect in game situational coach. Per an IM message from Jaboner Jackson (who may be returning to Los Angeles) “Kiffin is not a legit coach. A legit coach manages his players and coaches because of his grasp of all three facets of the game. Kiffin has yet to master one.” Jaboner is correct in his assessment. As we discussed all the way back in December of last year, a head football coach is first and foremost a manager of people. Therefore Kiffin’s success is predicated upon delegating more responsibility to his assistants and coordinators to assure their expertise is deployed to correct areas.
The checks and balances for responsibility delegation resides with the head coach possessing a fundamental understanding of the responsibilities he is assigning. If a coach doesn’t know anything about defense he has no way of knowing if his defensive coordinator is doing a good job. Likewise Kiffin needs to realize a head coach cannot play call from the sidelines and relinquish offensive play calling to his offensive coordinator Kennedy Pola. Kiffin believes the hype that he an “offensive guru” a la Norm Chow and has become too cute, overly complicated and painfully predictable with his play planning. The Trojans need to get back to the true Chow philosophy of lining up athlete for athlete with other teams and letting superior talent win games. No more wide receiver quick out patterns, no more fake field goals and no more formation shifts on PATs.
4. USC is still not playing clean ball. The Trojans were penalized 8 times for 84 yards, often sending a team already struggling offensive in the wrong direction. Offensive holding and false start penalties stymied almost every single second half drive. These recurring penalties are indicative of a lack of focus to detail and football is a detail oriented game. Lack of focus on small things like snap count translate into missed blocking assignments and poorly run routes. Last night’s game was riddled with both.
Although Stanford was penalized 12 times of 100 yards, their penalties were smart penalties. Stanford was purposely playing tight physical man coverage on Woods and Lee with the intention of picking up pass interference calls in lieu of giving up 80 yard touchdowns. Stanford also traded occasional personal foul/roughing the passer penalties for the opportunity to rattle Barkley.
5. Aside from Dion Bailey, Nickell Robey and Morgan Breslin the USC defense can’t tackle. Stepfan Taylor is a good running back but he looked unstoppable against USC because they couldn’t tackle him on first, second, third and sometimes fourth contact. Their poor tackling is the direct result of horrible angles at the point of pursuit. Tackles are supposed to be made by using the feet, hands and arms to wrap up. USC defenders are using the proven to be ineffective launch/arm tackle technique. Once again, this is an issue with attention to detail.
6. USC still cannot run the ball with authority or consistency. As previously stated, the Trojans were limited to 26 yards rushing. Their inability to run the ball creates a host of issues for the team.
- USC was unable to sustain drives of any length. This is supported by time of possession (28:05 to Stanford’s 31:55) and total number of first downs (15 compared to Stanford’s 22).
- The time of possession differential resulted with the defense spending a disproportionate amount of time on the field against a power running team.
- Because USC can’t run the ball, opposing defenses only need to worry about rushing the passer and maintaining man coverage for 2-3 seconds.
A perfect capsule collection for the entire evening is this 10 minute clip of the Trojan’s final possession. Pat Haden and Lane Kiffin should review this clip and discuss where the season goes from here.
A parting nugget of advice: Gird you loins Trojan fans! UCLA is about to leap frog you in the next AP and Coaches’ Poll. Unlike Kiffin, UCLA’s Jim Mora is a detail oriented coach that will not accept anything less than on the field perfection. The Bruins are now 3-0 moving into Conference play and they have the inside track on legitimately winning the Pac-12 South. Mazel Tov to Westwood!