Trojans stunned by Cougars; final nail in the Kiffin?

For the second consecutive week, USC’s defense dominated, creating turnovers and sacks just when it seemed the opposition was close to putting points on the board. But on Saturday, the Trojan offense offset all of these positives created by their counterparts on the other side of the ball en route to a 10-7 defeat at the hands of Washington State, marking the first time the team has lost to the Cougars at the Coliseum since 2000.

Not enough · USC redshirt sophomore tailback Tre Maddden (23) was the Trojans’ sole form of offensive production in the team’s 10-7 loss to Washington State. Madden finished with 151 rushing yards on 32 carries. - Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

Not enough · USC redshirt sophomore tailback Tre Maddden (23) was the Trojans’ sole form of offensive production in the team’s 10-7 loss to Washington State. Madden finished with 151 rushing yards on 32 carries. – Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

In a game that was bereft of any offensive consistency from either side, big plays were the difference — and the Trojans produced hardly any.

No USC offensive play went for more than 20 yards, and no pass play gained even 10 yards as the Trojans gained just 193 total yards on offense. Redshirt sophomore quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek combined to complete 11 of 21 passes for a measly total of 54 yards, with each throwing a costly interception.

After a poor punt from Washington State gave the Trojans the ball at the Cougars’ 39-yard line with a chance to extend the 7-0 lead just before halftime, Kessler mistimed a quick slant and threw behind sophomore receiver Nelson Agholor. Washington State cornerback Damante Horton intercepted the misfire and returned it 70 yards untouched to tie the game.

“Obviously that’s not what I wanted to happen on the play but I was just trying to get the ball out before I got sacked,” Kessler said. “It was one of those things where you kind of throw it blind to where you want [the receiver] to break, and I threw it a little behind [Agholor].”

Horton solidified his hero status for the Cougars by picking off another pass from Wittek on the Trojans’ final drive of the game to seal the upset.

The second interception followed the Cougars’ only successful offensive drive of the night. After Washington State receiver Dom Williams picked up 49 yards on a screen pass from Connor Halliday to the USC  30-yard line, the longest play of the entire game, kicker Andrew Furney converted a 41-yard field goal with 3:03 to play to put up the Cougars’ first offensive points of the night.

“We played lights-out defense versus a [pass-heavy] system that’s put up a bunch of numbers over the years,” USC head coach Lane Kiffin said. “Unfortunately, we were really poor on offense.”

Washington State played conservatively on defense all night, often dropping eight men into pass coverage in an attempt to limit big plays.

Kiffin seemed more than happy to oblige to the Cougars’ strategy, calling for 41 running plays and 21 passes, most of which were short routes and screen passes behind the line of scrimmage.

Kiffin’s suspect playcalling, a much-maligned subject over the past two seasons, elicited boos from enraged USC fans throughout the game, as running plays were called many times in third-and-long situations that rarely resulted in first downs for the Trojans.

USC was only 3 for 13 on third-down conversions in the game. But Kiffin defended his conservative strategy.

“When you drop eight [players deep] that’s gonna close up lanes in the passing game,” Kiffin said. “We [were effective] at times, but then we’d shoot ourselves in the foot.”

Despite the offense’s inability to maintain an effective drive, the Trojans’ defense held strong until the final minutes of the fourth quarter and even helped create USC’s only points of the game.

A pair of big gains by Washington State had the ball down to USC’s 33-yard line before a holding penalty and a sack by senior outside linebacker Morgan Breslin pushed the ball back past midfield. On the next play, redshirt junior defensive tackle George Uko sacked Halliday and forced a fumble, which was picked up by senior outside linebacker Devon Kennard and returned to the Cougars’ 22-yard line, giving the Trojans great field position.

Two plays after redshirt sophomore tailback Tre Madden converted a fourth-down run to get the ball inside the 10-yard line, Kessler rolled out to his right to pass but had enough space in front of him to scamper into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Trojans a 7-0 lead with 9:59 left in the second quarter.

Madden was the lone bright spot on USC’s offense, as he became the first USC running back to gain 100 yards in the first two games of the season since 1981 Heisman trophy winner Marcus Allen. Madden rushed 32 times for 151 yards for an average of 4.7 yards per carry and also converted all three of USC’s successful third down attempts.

Madden admitted in his post-game press conference that he felt banged up after having his number called over 30 times in just his second collegiate game at tailback. Including the 12 yards he gained on two receptions, Madden accounted for 163 of the Trojans’ 193 yards on offense — the lowest USC output since 1998.

Junior wide receiver Marqise Lee, whose Heisman chances are all but gone, gained just 27 yards on seven catches.

“I’ve never seen stats as bad as we did today,” Kiffin said. “That’s very discouraging and obviously that falls on me, so we’re going to fix it.”

The team did manage to slog into field goal range on Wittek’s first two drives to open the second half, aided by a few Washington State defensive penalties and Madden’s solid performance in the backfield.

But junior kicker Andre Heidari’s 32-yard attempt on the opening possession of the half was blocked, and his 43-yard attempt on the Trojans’ next drive went wide left.

As the clock wound down and fans trudged up the stairs and outside the Coliseum, a deafening chant of “Fire Kiffin!” echoed throughout the stadium.

“I think I heard those [taunts] before the game during warmups even, so I’m getting used to it,” Kiffin deadpanned. “It is what it is … You really can’t worry about that.”

If Kiffin truly isn’t distracted by the criticism that will surely surround him over the following week, that’s a good thing. Judging by the team’s performance against the Cougars, the entire USC staff and team have a lot of other concerns to iron out before the Trojans’ game next week at home against Boston College.


Follow Will on Twitter @WillLaws

8 replies
  1. Morencsarecoming
    Morencsarecoming says:

    How can this be happening? SC is all I have in my life! It is the only way I can gain respect from people up here in northern cali where Cal and Stanford rule the world.

    I need to have SC win — otherwise my life is worthless — so make it happen!

  2. SCMom
    SCMom says:

    Just a very disappointing game again. We travel several times a year to games but will think twice while Kiffin in still in place. The guys don’t believe in themselves and you can see it on the sideline, no energy. It comes from the TOP – Down. If your coach is not confident and up for a win, then the team will not be either. I never see the guy crack a smile. We love USC and this is just hard to see happen (again!).

  3. Everardo Torrez
    Everardo Torrez says:

    Go for broke, Lane. Open up the play book now that you’ve named a starting QB. Could the results be any worse than last Sat.? I’ve always supported you, but this last game was gut-wrenching. Wazzu’s best weapon was our offense.

  4. USC Dad
    USC Dad says:

    I am not an alumnus of S.C. But have followed the Trojans for over 45 years. The game against Washington St. was very disappointing and the only one to blame is the head coach. Young scholar-athletes play as they are taught at practice day in day out. Our Trojans do not have any leadership, pride, and a will to compete and succeed. Mr.Haden knows what a winning Coach must do to get these highly touted recruits to play tough and physical football , as when he played for Coach John McKay. The drawback who would replace Coach Kiffin if you fire him now? The Alumni, students, and parents deserve better than what we have. We must do better Pat! Fight On!

    Bob V

  5. Theresa
    Theresa says:

    It is simple. It is over for our wonderful legacy if Kiffin stays any longer. We have gotten worse each and every game. He has destroyed so many players chances for the pros, he has send the top recruits running from us at warp speed.
    It is clear to me, football must not matter to the school anymore and they don’t care how bad it gets or how low we go. We are un ranked and have a coach that does not believe in his guys and in turn they guys are deflated and have lost their drive for the play.
    Texas has a back bone, they did what was needed this week, Pat, show us your believe in the guys and in our legacy, your legacy and fire Kiffin; yesterday. We are not going to be able to recover if it goes one more game.
    Fans and alumni money is running out the door, but I guess that doesn’t matter either.
    What will it take to man up and get it done. We are already a totally embarrassment and getting worse by the second.
    Care about the guys, care about the school, care about the legacy and get this set right, NOW!!!

  6. Tommy Trojan 71
    Tommy Trojan 71 says:

    The answer seems pretty clear: In the Kiffin era the defense has been horrible. Daddy Kiffin is replaced and the defense improves immensely. Now Sonny Boy Kiffin is running the offense, which is as inept as any in the past history of Trojan Football.

    The answer seems apparent to everybody but Pat Haden: Fire Lame!!

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