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USC reportedly was an hour later for Sheriff’s dinner at Sun Bowl

Calling USC’s football season a disappointment would be a vast understatement. From No. 1 in the preseason polls to fifth-place in the Pac-12, nobody expected the Trojans to be playing their last game of the season in the Sun Bowl. But, alas, here we are, and the Trojans don’t appear to be enthusiastic about their situation.

First it was linebacker Tony Burnett ripping the city of El Paso and later apologizing. On Wednesday, it was the team reportedly showing up an hour late for the Sheriff’s Posse Dinner:

The Sheriff’s Posse Dinner is part of the pre-Bowl festivities leading up to Monday’s game between USC and Georgia Tech. The Trojans were so late that El Paso Times reporter Duke Keith says Georgia Tech left.

The only plausible explanation for USC’s tardiness comes from the Orange County Register’s Rich Hammond, who says USC’s practice started late and ended late, while Georgia Tech didn’t practice.

I’m guessing Lane Kiffin, despite his obvious time management problems against Notre Dame, does indeed own a watch.

Don’t be surprised if the Yellow Jackets consider this a slight and use it as motivation in the game.

Matt Barkley thinks USC focused on Marqise Lee too much; Kiffin disagrees

Matt Barkley said this week that USC’s offense focused on Marqise Lee too much at times this season, but Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin disagrees.

“At times though we focused too much on him as a team and we took away from other great playmakers like Robert (Woods) and our tight ends who were phenomenal players to where defenses saw that and kind of overcrowded Marqise,” Barkley said on “The Dan Patrick Show” Monday. “He still managed to make plays. I think we could have done a better job of utilizing other players.”

Barkley said that in response to Patrick, who was gushing over Lee and calling him the best player in college football this season.

On Wednesday, Kiffin was asked about Barkley’s comments and disagreed with them.

“No I don’t think that’s true,” Kiffin said via the Los Angeles Times. “Basically, Marqise Lee had one more catch than Robert Woods did the year before, so when you have players like that you want to make sure they’re touching the ball.”

Lee had 112 catches for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns in 12 games. Woods had 73 catches for 816 yards and 11 touchdowns, which was well shy of the 111 catches, 1,292 yards, and 15 touchdowns he racked up his sophomore season. No other player had more than 27 receptions in USC’s offense.

It seems like Barkley has a point, especially considering that he threw a career-high 15 interceptions. Maybe Kiffin should reconsider Barkley’s comments.

You can see Barkley’s interview with Patrick below. Some of the other notable things he said were that the high expectations for the team may have gotten to them, and that he did not have any regrets about returning to school for his senior season. He also thinks Johnny Manziel is most deserving of the Heisman Trophy. The parts about Lee begin around the 11:50 mark.

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Notre Dame’s goal-line stand for the ages was also a colossal USC failure

Notre Dame is back on top of the football world, and they can thanks some friendly calls from the officials in the Pitt and Stanford games for helping them get there. They can also thank USC boy wonder Lane Kiffin for his awful playcalling and clock management at the end of Saturday’s game for a major assist.

The Trojans were down 22-13 with 5:58 left in the game and got a great kick return from Marqise Lee to the 45 following a Notre Dame field goal. Quarterback Max Wittek then completed a 53-yard pass to Lee that took the ball down to the two. At that point, it looked like the Trojans would score a touchdown and have plenty of time to get a defensive stop and the ball back for a game-winning field goal. But things didn’t unfold as planned.

Kiffin’s offense operated with the urgency of a retired senior citizen on vacation. They routinely took at least 15 seconds between plays, and they used over three minutes in clock time to run eight plays. They didn’t even score a touchdown. The team was undisciplined, getting penalized for a false start on their first first-and-goal play. Kiffin then for some reason called for a run from the seven. Then after back-to-back pass interference calls, the Trojans were stuffed on consecutive QB sneak attempts. I actually didn’t mind the sneak call; Wittek needs to go airborne to get in on that, so I blame him for failed execution. But it wasn’t until after the second failed sneak that Kiffin finally called a timeout. He tried another run again, which didn’t work, and finally called a pass on fourth down that was a good call, but the pass was too low for Soma Vainuku to make the catch.

Everything about that possession for the Trojans marks what’s wrong with Kiffin. He has bravado where it doesn’t belong, and it costs the team. He thinks he can pound it in when he can’t, and that his team will push the opponents around when they won’t. The playcalling, lack of urgency, and undisciplined players were all hallmarks of a poorly coached team.

USC finished 7-5 after losing four of its last five games. They became the first AP preseason No. 1 team to finish with five losses since Ole Miss in 1964 (per ESPN Stats and Info). They were heavily hyped but didn’t live up to the billing. They lost five games despite their coach having players change jerseys and student managers deflate balls to gain advantages on the field.

The reality is that Lane Kiffin is not much better than an average football coach. If you want an unethical coach who is going to create a buzz in recruiting, cause controversies with the media or opposing teams, and then underachieve in the season, he’s your man. I guess that’s what AD Pat Haden wants, because he’s planning to stick with him.

Here’s video of the Notre Dame goal-line stand for the ages/USC debacle in case you want to relive it:

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USC backup QB Max Wittek guarantees a win over Notre Dame

With USC quarterback Matt Barkley having been ruled out of Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, most people have already penciled Notre Dame into the BCS National Championship game. Max Wittek, Barkley’s freshman backup who has attempted only nine passes in his collegiate career, is here to tell those people to pump the brakes.

“We haven’t got the full game plan yet, but from what I can tell, we’re going to play our offense, whatever coach (Lane) Kiffin feels comfortable giving me,” Wittek told ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, via Dr. Saturday. “If he wants to air it out, let’s air it out. If he wants to pound it on the ground, let’s do that. Like I said, I’m going to go out there, I’m going to play within myself, within the system, and we’re going to win this ballgame.”

It sounds like Wittek learned how to deal with the media from Rex Ryan, but I have no problem with it. He’s basically been put in a situation where he has nothing to lose, so Wittek might as well try to show his teammates and USC fans that he feels he is capable of having success against the No. 1 team in the nation.

For what it’s worth, Wittek is 8-for-9 passing for 95 yards and a touchdown in spot duty this season. He looked sharp on three pass attempts against UCLA last weekend after Barkley went down, but none of his playing time has come against a team of Notre Dame’s caliber. All the freshman can do is give it his all and try to shock to college football world.

USC student manager fired for deflating game balls vs. Oregon

A student manager for the USC football team was fired for intentionally deflating game balls below NCAA-regulated levels for the team’s game against Oregon last Saturday, the school announced on its website Wednesday.

According to the report on USC’s website, the game officials noticed the deflated balls and re-inflated three of them before the game. They re-inflated two more balls during halftime.

Though all the balls used in the second half were regulation, some of the deflated balls reportedly were used in the first half.

When informed of the issue by the Pac-12, USC reportedly began investigating immediately. The student manager is taking the fall. Per USCTrojans.com:

The student manager confirmed that he had, without the knowledge of, or instruction from, any USC student-athlete, coach, staff member or administrator, deflated those game balls after they had been tested and approved by officials prior to the game.

USC was reprimanded and fined by the Pac-12.

Deflating balls makes them easier to catch and throw, so one has to assume this was done in an attempt to aid USC’s passing game. As the home team, USC can also control which balls their offense uses and which balls the opponent would use.

USC lost the game 62-51 and allowed a school record-worst in points. Quarterback Matt Barkley went 35/54 for 484 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. Oregon freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota was 20/23 for 304 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions.

A few thoughts on the incident. It’s pretty obvious that USC was caught trying to cheat, which isn’t the first time that’s happened with the program this season. Two, though the student manager is taking the blame, there is no way on earth I believe he acted on his own without the knowledge or direction of the coaches. Student managers don’t make any decisions on their own. I believe he acted on his own as much as I believe that Lane Kiffin would let him call a play in a close game. The person’s name isn’t even listed, so this won’t sully their reputation. The coaches are just blaming the little guy here to cover for themselves. Lastly, it’s quite fitting that the team was embarrassed in a game where they were trying to gain an advantage through cheating.

I’m guessing the reaction from USC fans to this incident will be no different than what they’ve been thinking: fire Lane Kiffin.

H/T Scott Enyeart

Did Lane Kiffin have a player switch jersey numbers during game to trick opponent?

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.

USC bans writer from Cal game and two weeks of practice for reporting an injury

USC has a fairly simple policy regarding injuries this season: don’t talk about them. That goes for players, coaches, staff and apparently members of the media.

Trojans kicker Andre Heidari suffered an injury during the team’s opening game against Hawaii that required knee surgery last week. He did not travel with the team to New Jersey for last week’s game against Syracuse, and he is expected to miss about three weeks.

We know all this because it was reported by Scott Wolf of the Daily News over the weekend. As a result, the team has banned Wolf from attending the next two weeks of practice and will not issue him a press credential for the game against California on Sept. 22. Daily News sports editor Gene Warnick does not agree with the decision.

“From our standpoint, Scott was doing his job,” Warnick said, adding that he and a couple of other sports editors are scheduled to speak with USC Athletic Director Pat Haden about the issue. “This wasn’t something that was part of practice. We were just trying to report the news.”

If Wolf relayed some sort of information about plays or game-planning, the ban would seem more reasonable. NFL coaches like Bill Belichick try to be as secretive as possible about injuries, but they don’t punish writers for reporting them. If the writer obtains the information, it is their job to inform the public. Kiffin and company should do a better job of covering up injuries if they don’t want them reported.

UPDATE: Wolf says his two-day practice ban was lifted after several sports directors for local newspapers met with USC athletic director Pat Haden.