You heard the jokes after USC’s Sept. 22 game against California. You heard the same jokes after subsequent road trips to Utah and Washington.
USC coach Lane Kiffin’s offense was slow and stagnant. The space shuttle Endeavour trotted around Exposition Park at a quicker pace, they teased.
So of course the No. 9 Trojans’ 44-point rout of Colorado last Saturday looked all the more impressive. They scored, they scored often and they scored quickly. On the game’s third play, they scored on a 55-yard touchdown toss from senior quarterback Matt Barkley to sophomore wideout Marqise Lee. And by 9:03 in the first quarter, the scoreboard read USC 19, Colorado 0, a beatdown so decisive that many fans seemingly filed for the exits at the same time late-arriving Angelenos first plopped into their seats.
Everyone witnessed Kiffin’s bunch at full speed. At last, the offense played fast. About time, huh?
“The no-huddle was effective, I think,” said Lee, carrying his usual wide grin after catching six passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
The second-year receiver stood in the tunnel outside the home locker room at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and acknowledged he wasn’t overly concerned with what pace they played at, so long as they won. And oh, did they win Saturday.
But he also added: “It was like going back to our old selves.”
Yep, if you hadn’t noticed, USC installed a no-huddle offense against the Buffaloes and it worked quite nicely. So don’t be taken aback or confused — you needn’t think back to the grind-it-out style from earlier this season, the 27-9 win over Cal. Let’s be clear, this is this team’s identity: Speed. Up-tempo. Vertical passing.
Well, this is what the team’s identity should be at least. This is the Trojans’ calling card. It might not look like your father’s USC team, essentially making a 180-degree turn from the years of Tailback U, but it’s how it’ll be best off moving forward in 2012. It’s the personnel, stupid.
Part of Saturday’s success is naturally because of the opponent — Colorado, after all, is 1-6 overall and has struggled to acclimate to the Pac-12 since leaving the Big 12 in 2011. Nevertheless, much like in their season finale against UCLA a season ago, Barkley, Lee and the rest of the offense looked fluid — like the reigns were taken off, so to speak.
The no-huddle tempo appeared all too natural.
“It’s something we’ve practiced throughout the year, just waiting for the right time,” Kiffin said. “It went with the emphasis of attacking.”
Now might be a good time to trot it out once again, to keep attacking. The road ahead only becomes more formidable.
Next up for the Trojans: Arizona and No. 4 Oregon. Combined, they’re 11-3 this season. The Ducks are undefeated and the Wildcats aren’t too shabby either, finishing with 52 points in their last outing — a win over Washington in Tucson, Ariz. Both coaches are highly regarded offensive innovators, as well: Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Chip Kelly at Oregon — well-known for their work with the spread offense.
The overwhelming sentiment for weeks has been one of caution, with fears that facing the so-called “spread teams” would be a major stumbling block for USC, that it would be a contrast of styles. But that’s an old, outdated mindset. This is here and this is now, and whether Kiffin, among others, cares to admit it or not, USC is much more like Arizona and Oregon than Stanford.
The Trojans, much like their green-and-gold-clad rivals to the north, need to play in that hurried fashion.
“That’s our favorite, because, you know, we like to play fast all the time,” said sophomore linebacker Hayes Pullard, who will be lining up against those Arizona and Oregon offenses. “We don’t like the TV timeouts. We like the movement.”
The reasons are simple and twofold, really.
On offense, USC’s skilled players are also the team’s most decorated. On defense, its top playmakers are perhaps undersized (such as in the case of 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore linebacker Dion Bailey) but big enough and more than quick enough to stop offenses.
So play fast. If USC’s horses are skilled position guys, it might be appropriate to, you know, ride those horses.
“We have a lot of great receivers out there, and a lot of teams get tired,” Lee said. “So we’ll probably keep that in, depending on what Kiffin wants to do.”
Makes sense enough.
“The 19th Hole” runs Tuesdays. If you would like to comment on this story, visit DailyTrojan.com or email Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org.