What went wrong against Arizona

October, 27, 2012
10/27/12
10:42
PM PT
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The team committing the most penalties per game in the FBS this season, Lane Kiffin's USC Trojans, committed 13 more on Saturday against the Arizona Wildcats, costing themselves 117 crucial yards.

It also cost them the game.

The Trojans' lack of discipline did them in against a Wildcats team they should have comfortably beat. Instead, Arizona won, 39-36, and USC's national-title hopes are officially over. The Rose Bowl game is the only reasonable goal, now.

Perhaps most telling was Kiffin's response to a question about what else he could do to get through to his team on the discipline issue.

"I'm open for any suggestions," Kiffin said, oddly grinning. "I've tried it all."

The Trojans are two-thirds of the way through their regular season. It might be a little too late for suggestions.

Now they await an Oregon Ducks squad that has thoroughly dominated every team it's played this year, and 6-2 USC seems perhaps unlikely to finish the season with anything less than three losses.

On paper, USC has as much offensive talent as any team in the country; and the Trojans' defense hasn't been bad this year. The real problem is discipline ... and big penalties at big moments in the game.

"They hurt a lot," Kiffin said of the untimely flags.

Like the late hit T.J. McDonald was called for in the fourth quarter.

USC's players certainly noticed the flags. Running back Silas Redd said he couldn't believe the Trojans committed 13 more penalties, after averaging 10 through their first seven games.

"The discipline was not there today," said cornerback Josh Shaw: "That was very evident."

D.J. Morgan, USC's leading rusher on the day, offered a more in-depth assessment. He said a number of his teammates played irresponsibly against the Wildcats.

"I feel like some people let their emotions get to them and affect them and committed some selfish penalties," Morgan said. "Penalties are gonna happen in a game. But personal fouls and those ones, we have to be more aware of the situation and be more calm and let them be the ones to mess up.

"We can't retaliate."

Defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who was charged with a personal foul for removing Ka'Deem Carey's helmet in the first quarter, said he wasn't retaliating. He said he wasn't even responsible for removing Carey's helmet ... and he didn't know who did it.

Accountability is clearly an issue, too.

Center Khaled Holmes, one of the Trojans' senior leaders, said he wouldn't call his team undisciplined, although he allowed that emotion did get the best of them at times on Saturday.

Holmes also said USC still had time to redeem itself this season, beginning with Oregon and continuing with Notre Dame and a surprising UCLA team next month.

"If we do well, then this will all be forgotten about," Holmes said.

Unfortunately for USC, that's not totally true. Preseason No. 1 teams who finish with two losses are still considered disappointments.

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