USC Grades: Weak overall showing

LOS ANGELES -- The boos rained down on the field as the final seconds ticked off the clock and the Washington State Cougars defeated the USC Trojans 10-7. It was an embarrassing performance that elicited “Fire Kiffin!” chants in the fourth quarter and could indeed lead to the early dismissal of USC’s head coach if things don’t turn around soon:


Lane Kiffin was almost speechless as he looked at the final stats after the game. "I've never heard of stats like we had today," Kiffin said. "That's very discouraging and obviously that falls on me." Cody Kessler started the game and completed 8 of 13 passes for 41 yards and one interception in the first half, and Max Wittek completed 3 of 8 passes for 13 yards and one interception in the second half. The longest pass for either quarterback was eight yards. USC's 54 yards passing yards were its fewest in a game since 1998.


USC's game plan coming into the game was to run the ball and they certainly did that, rushing 42 times for 139 yards, but 3.3 yards per rush isn't exactly what the Trojans had in mind going up against a Washington State team that gave up 295 yards on 46 rushes last week to Auburn. The lone bright spot of the game on offense for USC was Tre Madden who ran 32 times for 151 yards. Madden became the first Trojan to start a season with 100 or more rushing yards in consecutive games since Marcus Allen in 1981.


USC's offensive line is a concern in pass protection but Kessler and Wittek both showed that even when they do have time in the pocket, it doesn't make much of a difference. USC's defensive line put pressure on Washington State quarterback Connor Holliday, sacking him four times, forcing a fumble and two interceptions.


For the second straight week, USC's "52" defense under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast stole the show and was the highlight of the game for USC. The Trojans defense only gave up 3 points and one big play, but that one play was all Washington State needed after returning a Kessler interception 70 yards for a touchdown. USC's defense gave up just 222 total yards to a Washington State team that had nearly 500 yards the previous week in Auburn. They had four sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The 10 points allowed were the fewest surrendered by USC in a loss since the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.


As bad as USC's offense played, USC's special teams weren’t much better. Andre Heidari's 32-yard field goal was blocked in the third quarter and his 43-yard field goal later in the quarter went wide left. Had he made both, USC would have escaped with a win. USC's return game wasn't much better, gaining only 15 total yards on punt returns as Marqise Lee fumbled a return for the second week in a row. Lee also had one kickoff return for only 12 yards.


The “Fire Kiffin!” chants at the Coliseum said it all. It was an embarrassing performance for the Trojans and the blame for the way the offense and the quarterbacks played fall at the feet of Kiffin and he knows it. His play calling was more scared than conservative and lacked the creativity he had become known for two years ago. "When you don't play well, of course it falls on the head coach," Kiffin said. "That's part of the job. We obviously weren't prepared well enough on offense."