"Obviously a disappointing day today for USC football and to lose that game in a home opener here. Especially how well our defense played, that was disappointing," said Lane Kiffin immediately following the 10-7 loss Saturday night.
The dust has settled, the clouds have cleared, yet the lowly fact remains that the Trojans faltered in their home opener to Washington State, facing a program that had not beaten USC since 2002 and was coming off a turnover-prone thumping at the hands of undervalued Auburn.
Following a horrendous performance on offense, featuring 19 penalty yards to only 54 yards passing, the Trojans disappearing offense was certainly fresh on everyone's mind as the Cougars stormed the field.
While the boo birds took center stage from fans, students and spectators alike "Fire Kiffin, fire Kiffin, fire Kiffin," the Trojans took responsibility for their lackluster showing despite the fading fan support this early into the season.
"I've never seen stats as bad as we did today," Kiffin said referring to the longest pass play of eight yards on the night. "That's very discouraging and obviously that falls on me, so we're going to fix it." In terms of the Trojans passing game, which only accumulated 54 yards passing on 21 official attempts on the night, Kiffin was flabbergasted. But also admitted that Washington State implemented a great deal of "Cover 8 looks" something his team did not expect.
In an atmosphere that felt more and more like a road game with each passing moment of futility, the Trojans inability to move the football and win the turnover ability effectively cost them in the long run. This for an attack that did not throw the football the entire third quarter and has yet to score in that frame since facing Arizona State last season.
The stats will point to the Trojans inability to move the football with any real rhythm as the ultimate cause of their demise. Yet a recognition of score and performance from his outstanding defense, which did not allow points until the final five minutes of the game, points out an interesting method implemented by the dual-QB led offense.
"There was a feeling during the game that our defense was playing very well and WSU was very turnover prone," Kiffin said when asked about the somewhat conservative play calling on offense. "The plan was if we were able to hold up on the defense to make sure we didn't screw up on offense."
Add to the fact the Trojans went 3-for-13 on third downs, including numerous rushing plays in nearly impossible down and distance situations, some could argue the towel was thrown in once the Trojans gained the 7-0 lead in the second quarter. "It's easy to say we have should have thrown later. As boring as it was, that was the plan," Kiffin added about his offense, which featured the fewest passing yards (54) in a USC game since way back in 1998.
This philosophy and resultant stagnant play on offense was granted reprieve from Biletnikoff Winner Marqise Lee, who finished the night with seven catches for 27 yards. Most of which coming from the bubble screen variety to the tune of disappointing boos and dismay from the 77-thousand plus in attendance. "I support Coach Kiffin," Lee said following the game, before adding, "You know I keep telling you (the media) its hard to call plays man."
For an offense that failed to fire passes above an average of three yards an attempt, Lane Kiffin promptly credited the Cougars defense for changing up their looks while also playing lockdown coverage in space. "You have to be consistent every play. You can't have that many negative plays," Kiffin said about the four bubble screens that resulted for negative yards along with two costly interceptions on offense.
How does one recover from such a crushing loss to morale early in the season? The team and its leader put it best on Saturday night, relying upon the grind-it-out mentality along with plenty of film study to recognize poor tendencies that resulted in an attack that could only muster seven points against a vulnerable Cougars defense.
The footsteps are getting louder, and playing with the philosophy of not losing can mean a whole lot more down the stretch for a teams confidence than just one shocking loss to Washington State. The Trojans haven't even reached the tip of the iceberg with their schedule, which shifts to read-option teams Boston College and Utah State.