- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Really? No one wants to talk about Oregon State's bounce back over Hawaii?
Mark in San Diego writes: A week ago the Pac-12 blog had a “defense of Kiffin” in the mailbag. The person writing basically equivocated hating lane with not supporting USC. And you both seemed to agree and pat him on the head. I am writing today to assure you there is nothing further from the truth. In fact, I hate Lane Kiffin BECAUSE I am a USC fan. Lane is an embarrassment to the university and the way he conducts himself does not represent the standards held by the community. He has: A) walked out on the media in the middle of questions B) tried to be cheat by making players switch jerseys and C) tried to cheat by deflating footballs. On top of all of that, he doesn’t even win! Last year he took the number one team in the country and tanked us out of the Top 25; we even lost our bowl game! This year, he started out conference play by losing to the conference doormat. “Loser-Lane” Kiffin has taken our players’ talent and flushed it down the toilet.
Kevin Gemmell: First off, it would have been impossible for both of us to “pat him on the head” because that was Ted’s mailbag. He can only speak for one half of the Pac-12 blog. I wrote a column last week that was a quasi-defense of USC, not necessarily Kiffin. But in the wake of Saturday’s loss, that all goes out the window.
The quarterback situation has spilled over onto the defensive side of the ball and weakened what has been an impressive defensive showing so far. And that's very unfortunate. If you hold a Mike Leach offense without an offensive touchdown, you’ve done something right.
As noted, the quarterback play has been terrible for USC. The offensive line play hasn't been great, either. Washington State out-muscled the Trojans. Plain and simple. Let it be noted that that's a clear testament to what Mike Breske has done with the Cougs.
The examples you offer from last year are valid, and very unbecoming of a storied program like USC. Whether he was directly involved in the ball deflating can’t be proved, but it happened under his watch, so he’s at fault by default. (You forgot the part where he lied about his vote in the coaches poll).
Personally, I like Kiffin. He’s invited me into his office, and we’ve had a lot of frank and productive conversations. As Ted noted in his Kiffin column yesterday -- a must-read for USC and non-USC fans alike -- the Pac-12 blog takes no joy in hot-seat talk. That being said, his handling of the quarterback situation has been a disaster. His handling of the offense has been a disaster. The first couple of bubble-screens I expected to be set-ups for down-the-field shots later in the game. But those shots never came. You have every right to be frustrated with the team and Kiffin. It’s all on him.
SJ in Eugene, Ore. writes: Still drinking the USC Kool-Aid? Seems like you would have had enough by now, or maybe just too much to see reality?
Kevin Gemmell: Let’s specify which Kool-Aid. Did I think Washington State was going to win on the road in L.A. for the first time since 2000? No. So hats off to the Cougs. (9-1 again this week, grrrrr). In the preseason predictions I had USC third behind ASU and UCLA. If it’s drinking the Kool-Aid to pick them third, then yes, I drank. From what I’ve seen from so far, USC is vulnerable to every team in the Pac-12.
Now that Kiffin has picked his guy, we'll see if there is any improvement. No more 50-50 splitting reps in practice. I still think they can finish third in the division. Anything above that would be unexpected.
Joe Bruin in Westwood writes: I never get any of my comments/questions answered by you guys, so I'm hoping that this one will make the headlines. I believe USC's loss to Wazzu was a glimpse of how USC's season is going to turn out. Without a proven QB, it's tough to win football games (see Kevin Craft and the Neuheisel era). With all that said, are you thoroughly convinced that the monopoly in L.A. is officially over?
Kevin Gemmell: It’s refreshing to get a take on USC from a non-partisan observer. Bruin ... is that French? You aren't the headliner, but you're the third question. Will that do?
As for the monopoly question, it’s all a matter of perception. And the perception of USC is downright awful right now. Look at what a potential USC-recruit who attended Saturday’s game told our Erik McKinney:
“It was kind of a letdown,” said an in-state ESPN 300 recruit who wished to remain anonymous. “It's really thrown me off of them. I think everybody thought the play calling could have been better. That game shouldn't have ended like that. You could hear it in the crowd -- the "Fire Kiffin" chants -- it's that noticeable when the crowd is saying it. Probably people who don't even really understand football are noticing that they're running that bubble screen that many times."
Short answer, yes. UCLA is the dominant team in Los Angeles right now. It is ranked and has national credibility -- which it can add to this weekend against Nebraska. USC will always be a brand name. But right now, that brand is stained.
Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, For the record, before you get too worked up by UCLA, hear all the facts. Granted, [Brett] Hundley's special, but Nevada ranked 95th last year in total defense, returned only five starters, and implemented a new defense. And that defense? The Tampa 2, led by their new DC, Scottie Hazelton, the same guy who coached USC's linebackers last year. We all know how well the Tampa 2 worked out last year for USC, so now add less talented personnel and newness and what do you have left? Just keeping it real. Really, you guys generally do a good job, but the blind spots can be a killer. Full picture my man, full picture.
Kevin Gemmell: I hear you. And in my UCLA running backs story last week, I stipulated that Nevada wasn’t exactly a defensive powerhouse. But consider the alternative?
What if Hundley had struggled? What if he didn’t look poised in the pocket and threw a couple of picks and looked indecisive?
It’s the ultimate chicken-or-egg question. Is Hundley that good? Or is Nevada’s defense that bad? I think we can lean toward "Hundley is that good," because UCLA blew out a team it was supposed to blow out. All he can do in a game like that is play spectacular or lose credibility. I'm pretty sure he didn't lose any credibility. Good players/teams beat who they are supposed to beat.
Derrick in Omaha writes: Same question as last week: As an Oregon fan, should I be worried? The blowout scores look good, but dropped passes, penalties, getting stopped on third and fourth downs, not getting the other team off the field etc. Too picky, or legit concerns?
Kevin Gemmell: Yes to both. Yes, too picky, because Oregon has set such an incredibly high standard for offensive efficiency over the last few years that any deviation from that feels like either an anomaly or a step backwards.
However, keep this in mind: Through two games this year, Oregon has six three-and-out drives. Through two games last year, it had seven. Through two games this year, it has 23 plays of 20 yards or more. Last year it had 12 through two games. So the offense is actually more explosive and efficient through the first two games than it was last season. Does that take a little of the stress off?
Now, yes to the legit concerns, as well, because the drops and the missed tackles were uncharacteristic. Ted and I get a lot of guff for calling Austin Seferian-Jenkins the best tight end in the country. “Best,” of course, is a very subjective word. Colt Lyerla, for example, is asked to do different things for his team than ASJ. But you don’t expect those kind of drops out of him. I still think those are the top two tight ends in the country. But those are plays he needs to make. Because tougher defenses loom.
I also thought the Ducks could do a better job in the power run game. Obviously, their perimeter speed is unmatched. And when they hit the corners, good night. But they are going to see some tough fronts in the Pac-12, and if the edges aren’t there, they are going to have to find a way to be more efficient running through the interior gaps.
So take this win for what it was -- their first road game of the season that involved traveling across the country. I hope the rest of the country -- which is usually sleeping when Oregon is playing -- got a good look at all the Ducks have to offer. Because it’s impressive. And when BCS decision-making time comes around (the outcome of future games pending), hopefully what the Ducks put on display will still be fresh in the minds of voters.
Carlos in Skoura, Morocco writes: Hi Kevin, I'm hearing and reading a fair amount about Oregon's performance against Virginia showing there is lots of room for improvement. While there are certainly areas to improve, it seems people are discounting the quality of the opponent. Virginia is a pretty good team that could easily make a bowl game. Getting a few three and outs or getting stopped on a couple fourth downs is to be expected when your opponent has the athletes, ability, and coaching of a team like Virginia, is it not? On an unrelated note, why is everyone so weirded out by Eminem's interview during the Michigan game? He was just being funny. Where's everyone's sense of humor?
Kevin Gemmell: I think that stems from the fact that Oregon shouldn’t be perceived as a team that struggles against “a pretty good team that could make a bowl game.” It was only the second game of the year -- and their first game against a team with a pulse. I definitely think there is room to improve, but as noted above, I’m not all that worried about it. I think Lyerla's drops were pretty uncharacteristic. I think some of the missed open-field tackles can be fixed with film study and practice. It’s little details that can be easily corrected, not major issues. If we're still talking about the little details in six weeks, then it's a cause for concern, because it's the little details that determine close games.
I had no problem with the interview -- aside from the spacey look on his face for the first half. Though it was Brent Musburger doing the talking, in my mind I kept hearing Casey Kasem talk about how this song was going to be shooting to the top of the charts.
George in Phoenix writes: Love the comment about Tenn being ranked in top 10. They're 2-0 in the SEC, so of course. Keep up the good work Kevin. By the way, did you catch Fla/Mia? 2 most inept offenses I've seen in a while (and no it wasn't because of great D)...until WSU/USC game of course.
Kevin Gemmell: Thanks, George. We’ve been known on the Pac-12 blog to crack the occasional joke at the expense of our friends in the South. Then again, all they have to do is show off their seven-straight national championships. That usually shuts us up.