Lane Kiffin and USC's coaching staff were a pitching a shutout for the early part of National Signing Day on Wednesday, picking up two huge out-of-state signees in receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive end Leonard Williams early in the morning and sealing the deal on all but one of their longtime commits.
Things were looking good. Then slowly but surely over the next four hours, quarterback Cyler Miles, defensive tackle Aziz Shittu and tackles Kyle Dodson, Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy, top prospects all of them, each turned the Trojans down. USC, limited to only 15 signees because of NCAA sanctions, finished by securing an important local kid in Carson receiver Darreus Rogers, but the damage had been done.
As Kiffin put it later Wednesday in his press conference at Heritage Hall, USC's "bullpen got rocked."
Kiffin resorted to a pitching analogy to explain how well he thought USC's "starting pitcher" was performing for the first six innings of Signing Day -- getting the Floridians Agholor and Williams, among others -- and how poorly the bullpen performed afterward.
In all, it's unclear if the Trojans actually won the nine-inning game -- that'll come in a year or two or three -- but it didn't go as well as Kiffin and his staff had hoped. It also didn't go nearly as badly as some had projected around the country.
"Obviously you want to focus on the positive, but there's a reality side to it," Kiffin said Wednesday evening. "We had a rough end to the day. But it was a great start, obviously."
The start included Agholor and Williams, which "shocked a lot of people," Kiffin said, and one other "touchdown maker," as Kiffin called him, in tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. The local kids -- including key offensive linemen Max Tuerk and Jordan Simmons -- all stayed true to their commitments, and the only recruit who defected away from USC was Northern California defensive end Pio Vatuvei, who the Trojans quickly replaced with Williams.
Together, Tuerk, Simmons and Zach Banner, the recruit from the state of Washington who announced he'd picked USC on Monday, add much-needed depth to the Trojans' offensive line, although Murphy, Peat or Dodson would have solidified it even further.
"Size is what sticks out about this class," Kiffin said, recounting the biggest positives from the day, in his eyes. "Really big guys and guys that can play a number of positions.
Kiffin also admitted that he fully expected Murphy, Peat or Dodson to sign, with the Trojans believing at one point last week they were leading in the chase of both Murphy and Peat and believing Wednesday they were first or second in the chase of all three prospects.
"To go 0-for-3 there, I thought we would have at least went 1-for-3," Kiffin said, continuing with the baseball analogy. "And I certainly didn't think two of them would go to the same school."
USC stayed three players below the 15-men limit, which Kiffin said wasn't entirely by design. But it makes sense. By taking only 12 players now, the Trojans save themselves from having to cut three more players to get under the 75-man overall limit come fall camp and allow three early enrollees to come in next January.
The only issue: Depth is at a premium. All 12 players need to pan out and stay in the program, or USC could be in for long-term issues.
"We can't afford attrition," Kiffin said. "So we had to look at everything, from academics to character to how well they play on the field and all the other stuff too.
"We tried to take all that into account."
Here's the full class of the 12 signees:
Nelson Agholor, WR, 6-1, 180, Tampa, FL (Berkeley Prep HS, Tampa, FL)
Zach Banner, OL, 6-9, 335, Puyallup, WA (Lakes HS, Lakewood, WA)
Gerald Bowman, S, 6-1, 215, Philadelphia, PA (Pierce J.C.)
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, TE, 6-5, 260, Rocklin, CA (Whitney HS, Rocklin, CA)
Jahleel Pinner, RB, 5-11, 225, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA (Mission Viejo (CA) HS)
Darreus Rogers, WR, 6-2, 195, Compton, CA (Carson (CA) HS)
Jabari Ruffin, LB, 6-4, 230, Downey, CA (Downey (CA) HS)
Kevon Seymour, DB, 6-0, 170, Pasadena, CA (Muir HS, Pasadena, CA)
Devian Shelton, DB, 6-2, 185, Inglewood, CA (Inglewood (CA) HS)
Jordan Simmons, OL, 6-5, 335, Inglewood, CA (Crespi HS, Encino, CA)
Max Tuerk, OL, 6-6, 295, Trabuco Canyon, CA (Santa Margarita HS, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA)
Leonard Williams, DL, 6-5, 275, Daytona Beach, FL (Mainland HS, Daytona Beach, FL)
And the five players who have already enrolled for a total of 17
Scott Starr, LB, 6-3, 230, Norco, CA (Norco (CA) HS)
Chad Wheeler, OT, 6-6, 265, Santa Monica, CA (Santa Monica (CA) HS)
DeVante Wilson, DE, 6-4, 235, Corona, CA (Corona (CA) HS)
Morgan Breslin, DE, 6-3, 255, Walnut Creek, CA (Diablo Valley J.C.)
Josh Shaw, S, 6-2, 195 Palmdale, CA (Florida)