Monday, November 5, 2012
Monte Kiffin's defense in a rough patch
By Pedro Moura
LOS ANGELES -- Two games, 101 points, 1,318 yards given up and two losses, back-to-back, to Arizona and Oregon.
Where does this USC Trojans defense, led by 72-year-old mastermind Monte Kiffin, go from here?
"We've gotta re-evaluate the whole thing," Kiffin said on Saturday. "I take full responsibility; put it on the coordinator."
Against the Arizona Wildcats two weeks back, the Trojans merely struggled to keep up with Rich Rodriguez's fast-paced attack. There were still positive plays and reason to think they could do something against the Oregon Ducks, even though the loss ended the team's national championship hopes.
Oh, how wrong that turned out to be.
USC stood absolutely no chance defending the Ducks. Oregon didn't need to punt for the first 55 minutes of Saturday's game and gained a total of 730 yards. Kenjon Barner ran for 321 yards by himself -- more than a Ducks quarterback has thrown for in a regular-season game in three years.
"I've never heard of that many yards," Kiffin said Saturday night. "It's mind-boggling."
Kiffin thought he had it figured out after his first season on the West Coast, in 2010, when the Trojans failed to stop these same Ducks, giving up 53 points at the Coliseum. That offseason, USC got faster across the board, opting for speed over size whenever possible and simplifying the defensive scheme so that players could adapt more quickly on the fly.
It looked like it worked. USC's defense improved last season, and, through seven games this year, appeared to have made clear progress once again.
Was that just a product of the offensive quality of the Trojans' opponents? In retrospect, maybe so: The six teams USC has beaten this season have collected just four wins against bowl-bound squads (Washington Huskies over Stanford Cardinal and Oregon State Beavers, Utah Utes over BYU Cougars, and California Golden Bears over UCLA Bruins), and only one of those has involved an impressive offensive performance -- Cal's now inexplicable 43-17 win over UCLA.
Yes, Arizona and Oregon have two of the top offenses in the country, and they have accentuated their opponents' defensive issues all year. That's surely part of the reason why USC struggled so mightily the past two weeks.
But looking ahead, the Arizona State Sun Devils and UCLA, the Trojans' next two opponents, are certainly more than mediocre on offense. The Sun Devils and Bruins are tied for 22nd in the country in points scored per game, putting up an average of 37. Neither team has scored fewer than 17 points all season – and those 17 points came in that Cal-UCLA game last month.
USC needs to win these next two games -- convincingly, probably -- to quell calls for the senior Kiffin's job. If the Trojans lose one and, say, fall to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the regular-season finale, leaving them 7-5, there will be serious pressure on the coach to resign.
He dismissed any talk of that Saturday night.
"Job in jeopardy, I don't get into all that stuff," Kiffin said. "You can't think that way now. All I care about is playing better defense and helping this team win the next three games."
Monte Kiffin added that his displeasure with his own performance had nothing to do with his son being the Trojans' head coach.
"I feel like I let the team down," he said. "I don't care about the head coach's last name."
Asked in his postgame news conference Saturday if he expected to win a game in which his offense scored 50 points, Lane Kiffin deflected talk away from his father's defensive unit.
"That's obviously a conversation to have," the younger Kiffin said. "But I feel like we should have done better on offense."
Monte Kiffin said he has hope USC will rebound in its final three games and, potentially, in the Pac-12 championship game and Rose Bowl.
"It's correctable," he said. "We'll come back. I think you'll be surprised."