Treading a fine line: Something special

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
10:59
PM PT
John BaxterChris Williams/Icon SMIUSC special teams coach John Baxter said the key blocked field goal was "a tribute to how we coach our players to be situational masters."
The mad scientist is finally starting to look like a genius. A week after getting criticized by fans for going for and failing to convert two two-point conversion attempts against Minnesota, USC special teams coach John Baxter smiled as he stood outside of the Coliseum Saturday night. ...

It was Matt Kalil who blocked Utah’s 41-yard field goal at the end of the game to seal the win for USC and the first victory in the new Pac-12 Conference, but it was Baxter, standing with his two daughters, Kelly, 15, and, McKenzie, 13, who looked like the player of the game as reporters and cameras surrounded him. ...

“The thing that happened in that situation is a tribute to how we coach our players to be situational masters,” Baxter said about the block. “The head coach, the defensive staff, the offensive staff and the special teams coach were all on the same page. Who blocks the kick is really immaterial in that situation.”...

I’m not so sure Kalil and the huge welt on his left forearm would agree it’s immaterial. ...

It was Kalil who blocked a field goal last week against Minnesota that essentially proved to be the difference in a 17-14 win. Because of his efforts last week, he was still holding a wood USC sledge hammer given to the USC special teams player of the week, which is voted by the players. ...

“Something tells me, I’m going to be holding on to this baby this week,” Kalil said as he left the Coliseum with the hammer in hand. ...

Baxter, who wore an Arm & Hammer hat after the game, has been giving his special teams player of the week hammers since 1989. USC coach Lane Kiffin, who was a student assistant under Baxter at Fresno State in 1996 and 1997, took notice of Baxter’s ability to coach special teams in Fresno where Baxter’s units blocked 84 kicks and punts during his time there, including a national-best 49 from 2002 to 2009. ...

During his nine seasons at USC, Pete Carroll had six different coaches assisting with special teams at one time or another and went nearly five years without having a full-time coach specifically assigned to the group. ...

Then again it’s easy to ignore one-third of the game when you’re recruiting NFL players on offense and defense. ...

“Special teams are actually one out of every five plays in football. It’s 20 percent of the game,” Baxter said. “Anybody that tells you it’s a third of the game is crazy. It’s one out of every five plays but our approach to that is what play is so unimportant that you can afford to take it off?” ...

Kalil rushed into the game on the blocked field goal along with two other offensive players, Ross Cumming and Rhett Ellison and lined up next to 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle Christian Tupou. The goal of the play is to get Tupou and the 6-foot-7, 300-pound Kalil lined up against one guard and essentially bulrush him and get penetration. ...

“I’m an offensive lineman so I don’t get many chances to win the game on the final play,” Kalil said. “Whenever I get in I’m looking to make a play.” ...

I hate to belabor the point after a win but since Lane Kiffin doesn’t always believe in points coming in the singular form without some trickery it still must be said...

After you score a touchdown that ignites the crowd and your team, the last thing you want to do is line up for a ridiculous two-point attempt, even if you call it off moments later, and have the crowd turn on you. After both of USC’s touchdown’s Saturday, they lined up for a two point play to a booing crowd before they eventually went for the extra point. ...

“We here them booing us,” Baxter said. “The fact of the matter is we’re going to do what we do and we’re going to coach aggressively. We’re going to go on fourth down; we’re going to go for two if it’s there, and we’re going to teach this team how to be aggressive. We got to play our style. If the fans don’t like it then the fans don’t like it but we have to do what we have to do to win.” ...

I’m not a betting man and would always rather be at a game than a sports book but what I wouldn’t give to be sitting in Las Vegas two hours after USC beat Utah 17-14, with a losing ticket from the game in my hand only to find out Pac-12 officials counted Torin Harris’ touchdown return of the blocked field goal. ...

The line on the game, according to sports books, was USC by 8.5. A USC 23-14 win would not only cover the point spread but probably a nice steak dinner or two thanks to Pac-12 officiating consultant Mike Pereira, who is probably not the most popular guy in Vegas right now.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com
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