Everything I've been thinking just feels like beating a dead horse, but after remembering the fifth bubble screen called in the first two drives Saturday night I realized beating a dead horse seems to be the USC thing to do. Much like ripping off a Band-Aid I'm going to list these stats quickly and hope it hurts less (post writing note: it didn't work). Here are some eye-popping stats from the official USC Media Press kit.
-The average Trojan pass Saturday night went 3.2 yards. -USC gained 45 yards from pass interference calls against the Cougars and 54 yards from completions.
-USC threw the ball 21 times and ran 42.
-USC is averaging 4.07 yards per play, almost a full two and half yards less than last season.
-USC is 11th in total defense and 115th in total offense. -USC didn't complete a pass longer than eight yards Saturday night.
-USC is converting 22.2% of its third downs, 115th in the country.
-My personal favorite: USC is the only team in the country without a completion of over twenty yards
Yet, those numbers don't even tell the full story. I stopped counting the number of plays that ended with a pass within a yard of the line of scrimmage when USC got to five (out of ten plays) in the first two drives. I'm a believer in running the football as I still remember the two back glory days of Pete Carroll utilizing the stable of running backs to national titles and at the worst, Pac-12 crowns.
However, when 50% of your pass attempts are close enough to the line of scrimmage to be run calls, something just seems wrong with the game plan. Head coach Lane Kiffin admitted after the game that "the plan was if we were able to hold up on the defense to make sure we didn't screw up on offense."
If I've ever heard a quote that summarizes the "playing not to lose" philosophy that is it; how can Kiffin expect either of his quarterbacks to have confidence in themselves when he clearly doesn't believe in them? The Trojans just lost a home game in which the defense surrendered three points, forced three turnovers and recorded four sacks.
The Trojans rank first in the country in sacks and are tied for second in the country with six interceptions. Yet, here we are staring down a 1-1 Trojans team that makes me feel like I'm living an Onion article. The last time the Trojans lost a home opener was all the way back in 2000; the last two times a ranked USC team lost to an unranked Washington State team the coach lost his job (Although Carroll came a few years after).
There it is, the real topic of conversation we're left after this USC loss. Even statistics as dismal as the ones listed above can't convey the feeling in the Coliseum Saturday night. I grew up rooting for a Portland Trailblazers team coached by the immortal Mike Dunleavy and even I have never heard that much fan animosity toward a coach. I can't advocate booing a bunch of "(unpaid)" 19-year-olds doing their best and I struggle to advocate the "Fire Kiffin" chants, but I can understand the feeling behind them.
My immediate reaction when the final horn sounded was to laugh. It was to make a joke about the Trojans tanking for Clowney, it was to wonder if we shouldn't consider making the inmates at Guantanamo watch the USC offense as a new form of "enhanced interrogation."
I am usually one of the last people to say a team should fire a coach, but walking out of the Coliseum Saturday night I couldn't help but feel we've crossed the point of no return; losing to Washington State is the kind of thing that gets Trojan coaches fired. Turning the best receiver in the country into someone who has 7 catches for 27 yards is the kind of thing that gets Trojan coaches fired. Wasting the best front seven in college football is the kind of thing that gets Trojan coaches fired.
I walked out of the Coliseum Saturday night baffled by the insistence on throwing bubble screens, the refusal to use Justin Davis (especially looking at the 32 carry beat down Tre Madden took in the backfield) in the run game at all and unsure of where USC goes from here.
This was about more than losing to Washington State for the first time since schools stopped trying to make me learn cursive. This was about walking out of the Coliseum and realizing I'd never had less fun watching football. If there's one thing more disheartening than watching USC lose a home opener to Washington State, its that.