At this time last year, after an impressive finish to the 2011 season (10-2 record), possessing Robert Woods and Marquise Lee two of the best Wide Receivers in the country Heisman Trophy aspirations for QB Matt Barkley, the USC Trojans viewed as a loaded team on the rise with enough talent to put an end to the SEC’s streak of six BCS National Championships.
The Trojans started the season as the Pre-Season number one team according to the Associated Press. USC suffered some key injuries, their lack of depth exposed and a team with high expectations and a lot of promise plummeted losing five of their last six games finishing the disappointing 2012 campaign at 7-6.
USC became the second ever Pre-Season number one to finish the season unranked since the 1964 Ole Miss team and first to lose six games. Several teams played faster than the Trojans and ran far more plays, USC ranked 83rd in the nation in total number of plays ran.
USC Athletic Director Pat Haden has stated that Head Coach Lane Kiffin is not on the hot seat although several people would argue that, present company included. Kiffin is the most scrutinized coach in the country. Kiffin and USC need to have a bounce back season. The difference between good and bad teams is concentrating on the little things.
Lane Kiffin made changes on the coaching staff; Clay Helton is the Offensive Coordinator, former Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, Lane’s Dad, stepped down to avoid the awkward feeling of being fired by his son.
The elder Kiffin, now the Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator, replaced by Clancy Pendergast who was the Defensive Coordinator at the University of California for the last three years. Pendergast has seen a lot of spread offenses and his defenses have consistently disrupted the scheme and shut down the run.
These are two of the areas that seemed to befuddle Monte Kiffin. For Lane Kiffin to stay on as the Head Coach and for the USC Football program to return to respectability several things need to happen:
1) USC needs to post a 6-3 or 7-2 conference record and win eight or more games.
2) Kiffin must choose a quarterback – Max Wittek completed 36 of the 69 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns in two starts in 2012. Wittek will get his hands on the keys first in 2013. The team has to get efficient QB play from him while developing depth behind him.
3) Take care of the ball – The Trojan passing game was one of their strengths, ranking in the top 10 or top 30 in all major categories, but committed way too many turnovers. In their six losses the Trojans lost 19 turnovers. USC ranked in the top ten nationally in interceptions and lost fumbles. Turnovers have a huge impact on games and as USC found out on a season.
4) Control the line of scrimmage – The prevailing thought by many was the USC could not defend the spread offenses. Defensively USC was able to limit the big running plays, but still struggled mightily against the run versus teams that knew how to attack their defense, allowing 7.1 yards per carry to Oregon, 5.5 to Stanford and 5.3 to Notre Dame.
5) Commit to the Running game – Wow, feels strange saying that the school formerly known as Tailback U needs to run the ball. The Trojans averaged 5.5 yards per carry, 150 yards per game, but ran for only 1,958 yards on the season which ranked 72nd in the nation. In the seven wins USC ran for 1,311 yards. The Trojans offensive line returns four of their top five players and has a total of 85 starts. The Trojans need to get back to being physical enough on both sides of the ball to handle whatever challenge before them.
6) Convert on 3rd down – The turnovers contributed mightily to the team not converting more on third down, but the real culprits were their inconsistent running game and not being able to control the line of scrimmage. The result was the USC Trojans ranking 110th in the nation at converting on third down.
The Trojans have 15 returning starters, better depth at most positions than in 2012 and a new aggressive defensive scheme. USC will have lower expectations in 2013; they avoid Oregon and host both Stanford and UCLA.
Bottom Line: If Lane Kiffin and company can correct their above mentioned mistakes USC could become one of the surprise teams of 2013 post a 10-3 record and receive an At-Large bid to play in the Fiesta Bowl against the number one team in the Big 12. If the above issues are not resolved; USC could post another 7-6 record and the program will be searching for another Head Coach.
Jeff Little is the host of “The Locker Room” a daily sports talk radio show based out of Los Angeles 6-8 pm PST www.sportsjourney.com Follow on twitter @JeffLittle32, Facebook, Pinterest