This is not how it was suppose to happen. The purportedly high-powered University of Southern California Trojans (USC) offense on the same field as Washington State Cougars’ Air Raid offense combination was expected to light up the scoreboard. However, USC’s defense played another terrific game. Still, when combined with the collective poor play from the Trojans two-headed quarterback and questionable coaching from head coach Lane Kiffin, Wazzu was able to upset the men of Troy 10-7 Saturday night in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It wasn’t a pretty game.
Cody Kessler once again was the starting QB for USC and managed an anemic 41 yards through the air on 8 of 13 passing. Max Wittek started the second half and was even less productive going 3 of 8 for only 13 yards. If you’re wondering - for the big strong-armed Wittek - that’s a measly average of 1.6 yards per throw. Neither quarterback showed much in the way of leading the Trojans even though they had a somewhat decent ground game led by powerful running back Tre Madden who gained 151 yards.
Washington State, for its part, tried to throw the ball but really never got anything going the entire game, which was due to the pressuring defense by USC. The Trojans forced Cougar quarterback Conner Halliday into two interceptions – all the while the defense made it hard for the Air Raid offense to make any progress. The men of Troy’s 5-2 hybrid defense also forced a fumble. Outside linebacker Morgan Breslin had a terrific game after missing the opener with an injury.
Poor special teams
Washington State created one big play which was enough to get in field goal range and ultimately win the gridiron battle late in the going. It wasn't that USC didn’t have chances; in fact, Andre Heidari had two shots at field goals but a 32-yard attempt was blocked and a 43-yarder sailed wide left. The USC Trojans special teams also had a poor outing.
The quarterback rotation doesn’t seem to be working as neither Kessler nor Wittek looked comfortable or able to get any rhythm. Also, both QBs appear unable to get the ball downfield, especially to arguably the best wide receiver in the nation: Marqise Lee. Lee had seven catches for just 27 yards, mainly because the team kept throwing hitch and flat passes – which teams are obviously waiting for because there are almost no passes down the field.
Play-calling and leadership lacking
To say head coach Lane Kiffin’s play-calling has been timid is an understatement. It’s often been said that Kiffin is a good strategist – and maybe he is – but his play-calling has made an already apprehensive looking offense look anemic. Bubble screen after bubble screen went nowhere, time after time. Kiffin seldom called for a pass play downfield. The offense was ineffective except for the running production of Madden; and at the end of the first half and onward, the boo-birds could be easily heard in the crowd of nearly 78,000, with most of the animosity directed squarely at Kiffin.
Athletic Direct Pat Haden publicly says Kiffin isn’t on the hot seat, but the performance by the head coach is very questionable at this point. With Kiffin’s hesitant approach and a squad lacking in leadership, has many questioning just how much longer the still-young 38 year old coach has before he no longer is welcomed by the school.
The Washington State Cougars of the world are clubs that should not be beating the Trojans at home. If the USC Trojans don’t improve their leadership, play-calling and make a decision on a quarterback, this season could spiral badly.
The Cougars finally go back to Pullman to play their first home game and it will be against Southern Utah of the FCS. The Trojans are at home again, this time against Boston College. Washington State still has some work ahead of them but appears to be an improved squad from a year ago. USC is at a crossroads with more questions than answers.
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Sources: Washington State University, University of Southern California