Lane Kiffin has a job to do at USC, and that’s to win football games. If that means doing something aimed at deceiving your opponent that is technically within the confines of the NCAA rules, Kiffin is open to it. For example, let’s look at his decision to have backup quarterback Cody Kessler change jerseys from No. 6 to No. 35 in the first half against Colorado.
According to the L.A. Times, Kessler played on special teams in the first half wearing jersey No. 35, which is typically worn by punter Kyle Negrete. Kessler nearly ran the ball in for a two-point conversion on one play but a holding penalty brought it back. When asked if Kessler was wearing the number of a punter to try to fool Colorado, Kiffin said very little.
“We change jerseys all the time with our guys,” he said on Tuesday. “We’ll change some more this week. Everything’s within college rules.”
That may not be exactly true. NCAA rules say that multiple players can wear the same jersey number as long as they are not on the field at the same time. However, within a section of the NCAA rulebook called “The Football Code” it clearly states that “changing numbers during the game to deceive the opponent” is illegal and should result in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Obviously it is extremely difficult to prove whether or not a coach intended to deceive an opponent. It’s a mere judgment call from the officials, so you can understand why they might be hesitant to call it. Had Kessler not attempted a two-point conversion, it might be easier to believe that Kiffin was not trying to fool Colorado. We all know a mobile backup quarterback wearing a punter’s number and attempting to run the ball is no coincidence.