So much has been written about USC’s dismal offensive performance in the second half of the Minnesota game, but very little about Lane Kiffin’s game management and in-game strategies. If Kiffin does not improve his game coaching, it may well lead to his firing after the season.
Pat Haden is no ordinary Athletic Director. He was a QB on the 1972 National Championship team and the QB of the 1974 National Championship team where he led his team to a now famous second half comeback victory over Notre Dame and a Rose Bowl victory over an excellent Ohio State team. Haden learned his craft from the legendary John McKay, with whom he lived his senior year in high school. If Kiffin’s in-game mistakes are obvious to me, then they must be obvious to Pat Haden.
Extra Points: Strategically, missing the two-point conversation after a TD on the first possession only gave Minnesota hope. An early TD can discourage a lesser team and missing the two-point conversation wiped away any frustration that Minnesota may have felt. An empirical victory for Minnesota, if nothing else.
The Trojans were now locked into a failed two-point strategy that affected the whole tempo of the game and almost its outcome. If Minnesota had kicked a field goal at the end to win, Kiffin would have been demonized for not kicking the two extra points.
With 23 seconds remaining in the 1st Quarter, USC punted from the 35 and the ball was spotted on Minnesota’s three yard line. Minnesota was forced to kick from their own end zone and the Trojans scored a TD on the next possession. A strategy Kiffin should have followed in the opening drive of the 2nd half.
When the Trojans missed the second two-point conversion, it just picked up Minnesota’s defense again. Converting on the extra point kick would have continued the frustration and demoralized a young Minnesota team. But instead, it re-energized Minnesota’s defense.
The Minnesota offense took the kick off and marched down the field and kicked a field goal inside the 10-yard line making the score 12-3. It was Minnesota 3-0 on field goal strategy exchanges.
Coaches now rely upon a numerical card that tells them when to go for two. Historically, two-point conversions are more successful at the end of games or overtime when defenses are tired and the offense has a better sense of what plays work.
It makes no strategical sense to go for a two-point conversion until it’s needed to catch up late in the 4th Quarter or to win the game. Once a team misses the first two-point attempt, it is locked into a “make-up” mentality and starts going for two after the next TDs to make up for the lost point.
Failure to Attempt a Field Goal: Leading 12-3, the Trojans had an opportunity to extend their lead and instead of trying a field goal, Kiffin elected to go for it on 4th down inside the 10-yard line. Instead of taking the points, he chose to go for it and failed. If the Trojans kicked the field goal, it would have been 15-3 or 17-3 if the extra points had been kicked.
Certainly a 17-3 lead will deflate a team much quicker than a 12-3 lead and missing a field goal. This failed strategy kept Minnesota in the game. The Trojans did score on the next possession but who is to say they would not have scored anyway. Finally, they kicked the extra point for a 19-3 lead instead of a 24-3 lead.
Kiffin needs to learn that it is important to put points on the board when you have the opportunity. There are no “knock-out” punches in the 1st Quarter of a football game.
Worse yet, the Trojans have a new field goal kicker and Kiffin needed to see whether his new kicker, and special teams, could effectively execute a field goal. Waiting until the final seconds of a game to find out if you have a field goal kicker is not a good decision. Now the Trojans go into an important second game of the season against Utah not knowing whether they have a field goal kicker or a special team’s unit that executes the field goal.
Failed 4th Down Turnover. Much has been said about the bad snap that changed the momentum on the Trojan’s first possession of the 2nd half. Going for it early in the 3rd Quarter on 4th and six at the 35-yard line was a terrible strategical error. It was too early in the half and before Kiffin could see any adjustments made by Minnesota in their defensive schemes.
If Kiffin didn’t have faith in his field goal kicker (a 52 yarder), then he should have punted and played defense as he did at the end of the 1st Quarter (which lead to the second TD). Perhaps, if Kiffin had kicked the field goal when he should have, he would have had more faith in his kicker in the second half.
Every Pop Warner and high school coach would have tried to punt the ball inside the 20-yard line. But not Kiffin. If Kiffin had punted, Minnesota would have taken possession deep in their own territory and not at the Trojan 30-yard line where it scored almost immediately after the turnover. So, instead of leading 24-3 or 22-3 with Minnesota pinned back in their own territory, the Trojans were up only 19-10 against a freshly inspired Minnesota team. This score fueled a great effort on Minnesota’s part in the 2nd half.
The Trojans lost momentum and struggled for the rest of the game while Minnesota got stronger on every possession. Give Minnesota credit. They seized the opportunity and played much harder than the Trojans who appeared to be playing back on their heels.
Poorly Planned Running Game: While Kiffin and others blame the poor running game on a new offensive line, the real problem is an unimaginative use of formations and situational decisions that tip Trojan running plays to the defense.
If I can look at the formation and guess where the Trojans are going to run 99% of the time, how easy must it be for a seasoned defensive coordinator to see the obvious? Sadly, the Trojans run the same plays over and over on predictable downs making defending their run game much easier. Minnesota went into run blitz mode on obvious downs the entire second half.
An unimaginative game plan from a supposedly imaginative coach. Kiffin, despite his offensive credentials, runs a vanilla offense with no trick plays, no deceptive motion, reverses, end-around’s or any other play that would keep defenses honest.
I see teams all over the country with freshmen and first year starters execute trick plays and misdirection plays. Why can’t this Trojan team do the same? Many of these players performed in more wide open offenses in high school than Kiffin’s at USC. Kiffin has too little faith in his players.
It seems at times that Kiffin just calls his best or favorite play rather than looking for ways to attack a defense. It also seems that he makes no second half or in-game adjustments. Minnesota came out for the 2nd half with a new game plan and seized the day while the Trojans looked like they were stuck in mud.
Kiffin needs to go back to field position football and call his plays based upon field position, the way the opposition’s offense is playing and learn to punt the ball as deep into the opposition’s territory s possible and play defense. He needs to stop going for a “knock-out” punch on offense and wear his opponents down in more traditional ways. There is more than one way to win a football game and Kiffin needs to master more of them or he will be out of a job soon. Trojan fans hope it happens soon.