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Monday, December 31, 2012
Sun Bowl: Postgame notebook

By Pedro Moura

EL PASO, Texas -- The USC Trojans ended 2012 with the opposite of a bang -- a 21-7 upset loss to under-.500 Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

The same Trojans offense that started off the season as hyped as any team in the country failed to produce even double-digit points against a squad that had been giving up 30 a game beforehand.

Here are notes and quotes from USC's loss on New Year's Eve, not including the news that receiver Robert Woods is foregoing his senior season and declaring for the 2013 NFL draft.

Initial responses

USC coach Lane Kiffin began his postgame press conference by taking "all" the blame for the loss and stating, shortly, that he knew the Trojans' 2012 performance was unacceptable.

"We can't be 7-6," Kiffin said. "Not at 'SC."

Kiffin also called it a "very surprising game." Based on what his team had shown him over five previous days in El Paso and recent weeks in L.A., he expected a different outcome.

"I thought we would play much better on offense today," he said. "I thought we had two good weeks of practice."

But as he did after every game this season, he praised the Trojans' overall effort.

His players also said they thought the bowl practices would translate into a better bowl performance. A few also offered their own theories for what went wrong -- both Monday and over the last four months.

"We failed to execute, be disciplined, at times, when it was critical," senior safety Jawanza Starling said. "That's pretty much it -- we failed to execute at critical times."

Junior running back Silas Redd said it came down to physicality.

"I think we just gotta be meaner, more physical, more nasty up front in every way," he said. "Even running backs running harder."

All Wittek, no Kessler

Matt Kartozian
USC quarterback Max Wittek completed just 14 of 37 attempts for 107 yards and had three interceptions against the Sun Bowl's harsh winds.
Max Wittek, making his second career start in place of the injured Matt Barkley, struggled mightily to make headway on the Georgia Tech defense.

He said afterward he never lost confidence but admitted to feeling out of rhythm for most of the game.

In all, Wittek attempted 37 throws and completed only 14 of them for 107 yards, adding three interceptions and one touchdown. Yet Cody Kessler, Wittek's backup, a fellow redshirt freshman and a competitor for next year's open quarterback job, did not replace him at any point.

Asked after the game why he kept Wittek on the field throughout, Kiffin said the weather discouraged him from making a switch.

"I just didn't think that, the way the temperature was and the way the wind was going, the way we were running the ball, I don't think that was really the right move at the time," Kiffin said.

Kessler noted that he had played in cold-weather conditions before. He did warm up on the sideline briefly in the second half but said that was just to maintain warmth, not due to any coaching instructions.

"I just kept staying prepared," Kessler said. "I had no idea what was gonna happen. No matter what, I'm still gonna support Max, I'm still gonna support our coaches."

The wind's impact

Winds gusted up to 35 miles per hour at the Sun Bowl, as expected, and they appeared to play a role in a few of Wittek's overthrows, especially early on.

But the freshman signal caller declined to use it as an excuse for his performance.

"It did carry a few balls, but we knew that (it would) coming in," Wittek said in the postgame press conference. "I knew that I needed to drive the ball a little bit more, but the wind was there for both teams.

"Obviously they run the ball a little bit more than they throw, but we both had the wind factor."

Star receiver Marqise Lee said the wind was "shaky" -- stronger than he expected coming in.

Monte's goodbye

The 72-year-old Monte Kiffin was in relatively good spirits after his final game at USC on Monday, expressing love for Trojan traditions and the school's marching band.

Kiffin, the school's de facto defensive coordinator for the last three seasons, resigned last month, citing a desire to take an NFL job.

"You don't like to end up like this," he said. "But I'll tell you what: I've only been here three years, but I'll be a Trojan for life."

The elder Kiffin retained his sense of humor. Asked Monday if he would miss coaching alongside his son, he laughed.

"Not really," Monte Kiffin said.

He said he expected to hear from NFL teams about job opportunities in the coming days, with his season and the league's regular season now both over.

Robey's decision

Junior cornerback Nickell Robey will fly home to Florida on Tuesday and should have a decision made on whether to declare for the NFL draft by Thursday, he said.

Robey said he received a fourth-round-or-later grade on the draft evaluation he requested, meaning the NFL officials who evaluated his college tape did not find him worthy of a pick in the top three rounds.

He said he found that "pretty surprising." He had previously said he would only declare for the draft if he received a first- or second-round grade from the NFL on his pre-draft evaluation.

Final notes: Lee said he hurt his knee during Saturday's practice and received extensive treatment on it over the next 48 hours. He played the entire game Monday and said he wasn't really bothered by the injury. He finished with six catches for 41 yards. ... USC was missing two normal contributors due to academic ineligibility. Offensive lineman Abe Markowitz and cornerback Torin Harris were not with the team because of grade issues, Kiffin said. ... Robey said Georgia's Tech fourth-quarter touchdown -- a 17-yard catch from Orwin Smith, who broke Robey's tackle attempt -- came on a "busted coverage." The Trojans had not seen "those looks or that certain play" in their preparation for Georgia Tech, Robey said. ... Redd said he will return to USC for his senior season. He requested and received a draft evaluation from the NFL but declined to reveal its result. ... Monte Kiffin, on Lane's impending search for a new defensive coordinator: "I don't think he's done much on it yet, but he shouldn't have, because he's been trying to win a bowl game."