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Friday, September 6, 2013
Mailbag: Standing up for Kiffin

By Ted Miller

Welcome to the second Friday of the football season. This is the mailbag.

There's no actual bag, but it's fun to hold on to the quaint ways of the past. Such as following the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Sean from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Why were there no post-game comments on ASU's drubbing of Sacramento State? I highly value the opinion of the ESPN Pac-12 blog and their objective, if quirky, views on how teams play throughout the year. I stayed up until well past midnight after the win hoping for some quality non-AP reading and was sadly disappointed. In the absence of ESPN's old forum I thrive solely on this blog and hope you can remedy this situation.If it was because ASU clearly dominated an FCS opponent and didn't seem worthwhile commenting on, I understand. Please continue the good work.

Ted Miller: Kevin is objective. I am quirky. And cranky.

We're changing things up a bit. Kevin and I will still comment on big games and newsy things coming out of games but we're not going to do a writeup on every contest. That's not just us. It's a change for all the conference blogs.

You can read the game story here, and there's a separate area to chat about the game, where fans can go back and forth over stuff.

As for my reaction, I think Arizona State is doomed. That was the worst 55-0 win I've ever witnessed.

Kidding, of course. To be honest: The game was over before halftime, which is when I turned it off.

The Sun Devils did everything coach Todd Graham and their fans could have hoped for -- completely dominating in all areas. Arizona State outgained Sacramento State 523 yards to 167 -- the Hornets had four of their six total first downs on their first drive -- and QB Taylor Kelly threw for 300 yards and five TDs.

And the discipline stuff that Graham has been preaching continued: one penalty for 5 yards and no turnovers.

All that performance did was whet everyone's appetite for Wisconsin's visit next weekend. That game will have a writeup. Promise. And maybe more.

Tony from Fresno, Calif., writes: I am a rarity these days. An SC fan who actually likes Lane Kiffin. I don't think people understand just how drastically losing so many scholarships has hurt the team the past three years, at all positions, especially on defense. People don't seem to be calling for Mack Brown's head, and he's had so much more to work with the past three years. Regardless what people on the outside say, being close to the situation, every time I hear the players speak it really seems like they have his back and love the guy. Marqise Lee's comments during this QB battle have just been hilarious, and telling how good a relationship he has with his players. I really appreciated your piece on him after the game on how the public loves to view the bad without giving the good its due. Do you think outside of going 11-2, Kiffin actually makes it through to 2014? I understand why people dislike him from Oakland and Tennessee, but as an SC alum I'm actually proud to call him my coach.

Ted Miller: Well, some people have called for Mack Brown's head, but I get your point.

I also believe the most positive way for a fan to be is ... positive. You support your coach and your team until the end of the season, then take stock. So my feeling is Trojans fans should go all-in with Kiffin and the Trojans and see what happens this season. I think the odds are solid this crew surprises some folks, wins the South Division and ends up ranked in the top half of the national rankings.

My big-picture theory has always been that Kiffin is a smart, talented guy who should become a good coach. What we know is he was a good coach in 2011 and not one in 2012. Now, is he mature enough and reflective enough to combine the fun lessons and the hard lessons of those two seasons and grow into the right guy to lead USC?

So you root for your coach and your team. Let the media do its job, which is to be sourly objective -- or subjective, in the case of a columnist -- pointing out the good and the bad and questioning the underpinnings of both.

As for the threshold for Kiffin retaining his job, I don't think it's as high as 11-2. I think the biggest thing is beating UCLA and Notre Dame, for one. Going 9-4 with rivalry wins is better than 10-3 with rivalry losses. In fact, I think the biggest measure is the finale against the Bruins in the Coliseum. Win that game and a middling bowl, and I think Kiffin will coach the Trojans in 2014.

David from Calgary, Alberta writes: With USC's young secondary and Connor Halliday having so many options to go to, plus an upswing in the run game, do you think Washington State can pull this one out on Saturday?

Ted Miller: Yes, I think USC should be on upset alert. That said, Kevin and I picked USC.

Potentially helping the Cougars' case is USC injuries. The Trojans continue to be banged up, including both starting corners, Anthony Brown and Kevon Seymour, as well as top pass rusher Morgan Breslin, who is expected to play after missing the opener with a ankle injury. The question with USC while still under NCAA sanctions  hasn't really been the starting 22. It's been depth. Against the Cougars uptempo pace, a lack of depth is accentuated.

But the key to me is Halliday making plays like he did at Auburn without the interceptions. Not only did he throw three picks against the Tigers, he had a couple of others that were dropped. I think the Cougs' upset chances hinge on their having a clean sheet on giveaways, or at least decisively winning the turnover battle.

Lance from Canada writes: What's your take on teams faking injuries to slow down uptempo offenses? This issue was mentioned in a few different games, but everyone came to the same conclusion -- nobody can prove they faked it. Why on earth is an injured player, who stops the game while being attended to, allowed to come back in after only one play? That's a safety concern. If he's THAT hurt to where the game needs to be stopped, should he be coming back in that quickly? If there was a requirement where they have to sit out an entire series (or at least a few plays) if the game has to be stopped and the training staff has to come on the field, that would go a long way toward getting rid of timely "injuries" and bad acting jobs.

Ted Miller: First, let's understand: Players are absolutely faking injuries. I think coaches playing this indignant card when asked about it is ridiculous. Of course, that's all a part of maintaining plausible deniability.

A coach can easily get his defense to understand his desire for a few fake injuries without specifically signaling a guy to take a fall -- technical term, "A Tosh Lupoi" -- during a game.
Coach to defense during Tuesday practice: I am not telling you guys to fake an injury. But if you feel a twinge or tweak or don't feel 100 percent, it is within the rules for you to go down. Use your judgement. It's quite possible you might only feel 97 percent after their offense gets consecutive first downs.

And there you have it.

As for a remedy, I don't like the idea of constantly adding rules, but I do like Cal coach Sonny Dykes' solution: If a player is hurt enough to go down and not get up, he surely needs a thorough review by the medical staff, which cannot happen in the space of one play.

So injured players should be forced to sit out either a certain number of plays -- say three -- or perhaps an entire series.

Of course, there are ways around even that, such as defensive coach sending in a reserve so he can take a dive and delay the game. Still, I suspect it would reduce the amount of spurious, "I've fallen and can't get up!" moments.

Ryan from Naval Base Point Loma, San Deigo, Calif., writes: First off I just want to say I am a big fan and check your blog more than I check my Facebook. That's saying a lot. Although, I think that speaks to my obsession with the Ducks more than my obsession with you. ... If I didn't know any better I would think the University of Virginia is a legitimate BCS contender! All I've been hearing since Monday, from enough experts to make me sick, is how this is going to be a relatively close game in Virginia. Has everyone fallen and hit their heads this offseason??? Look, Virginia may very well be a decent-looking squad this year. But some of these predictions are outrageous! Am I wrong as an Oregon fan to be offended by the rest of the country expecting this to be a three-score game or less? Not happening.

Ted Miller: Do some of you older Oregon fans, who remember the program before the mid-1990s, ever shake your head and smile at the younger generation of Ducks?

Ryan, where are you getting these predictions? Kevin picked the Ducks by 28, I picked the Ducks by 21. Oregon has perked up to a 24.5-point favorite. If someone has picked the upset, it has eluded me.

I think you are reacting to the quite reasonable media narrative that after playing Nicholls State, a truly bad FCS team, the Ducks are now taking a long road trip to play a respectable AQ conference team. The 'Hoos are not milquetoast. If the Ducks don't show up, they could lose.

Further, there's still the valid curiosity over whether the Ducks continue to be their inexorable selves under first-year coach Mark Helfrich.

So, to your question, which I suspect was delivered with just a bit of faux outrage, I would say ... no.

No, you are not wrong as an Oregon fan to be offended by the rest of the country expecting this to be a three-score game or less. You are an Oregon fan. That is the sort of thing you do. It's joyous, irrational and filled with hubris. Just like all fan bases backing national powers.

Tim from Austin, Texas writes:  Ted, I'm not sure if you wrote the story previewing the Washington State at USC game this week or not (it's underneath your video, so I can only assume), but at the bottom it states that Washington State has dropped 20 straight games to ranked opponents. However, this is untrue. Washington was ranked No. 25 last year when Washington State beat the Huskies in the Apple Cup. I know it is just a minor detail, but I'm sure all Coug fans have noticed that and would like to have it corrected.

Ted Miller: I couldn't find the story you were referencing, but Washington wasn't ranked in either poll when it lost the 2012 Apple Cup.

But you are not completely wrong: The Huskies were ranked No. 25 in the BCS standings the week before that game.

Further, ESPN uses the BCS rankings instead of the poll rankings for the sake of clarity over the second half of the season. That, of course, will end after this season when the BCS ends.

Trojan1981 from Tokyo writes: I wanted to make sure that it was made clear that I am not responsible for breaking the chat. The one who is responsible is an imposter Husky who was using my good name to slander Trojans everywhere. Please let it be known that actual Trojans are the most reliable of all Pac-12 fans.

Ted Miller: Trojan1981, we would never suspect anything ill of you.

(And very strategic to pick a Husky as your nemesis, thereby enlisting Oregon fans as potential allies).