Weekly Musings – Arizona Edition

This week’s musings are hard to write, and that is not just because USC lost. All USC losses are tough for this Trojan to take, but this one stings for more than the usual reasons. The two-loss season we have going certainly means we will not be playing for the fictitious BcS championship. I would say it’s safe to say that Matt Barkley will not be hoisting the Heisman Trophy above his head in six weeks. And really, a berth in the Rose Bowl looks like an awfully difficult proposition (but not out of the question). It was a tough loss. And there is some other stuff I will get to as well.

In fairness, Arizona deserves some credit for what they did to win this game. They moved the football at will, and even though they didn’t do a lot to stop our offense either, they put a ton of yards up, a ton of points up, and most impressively, they got down by 15 points in the middle of the third quarter to the USC offense, and they didn’t come close to laying down. They were like the anti-Cal: Tough, potent, and passionate. But I can not write objectively about this game without calling it for how it was. Here we go.

– I attended Monday Morning Quarterback today fully expecting a pretty big mea culpa from Lane KIffin. It did not come. He rightly pointed out the painful reality that inopportune penalties create. He made a video for the team showing all their bad penalties and what the results have been. He did a good job reiterating how unforgivable the penalties were. And he is right. The turnovers kept us from scoring, and they enabled them to score. And it happened a lot. And it made us lose. The penalties and turnovers are part of the same exact thing – different symptoms of the same disease, if you will: An undisciplined football team.

– Kiff feels confident that we can beat Oregon this year, just as we did last year. I do not. Anything can happen, and because I am a real Trojan, not a douchebag, I will be cheering like a madman for my Trojans on Saturday. And if we go 0-11 in the next 11 games, I will do the same thing. So do not confuse my frustration I am about to share with a lack of love and commitment for USC. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is that Lane may be our coach for ten more years at USC, winning a plethora of big games, restoring the program, doing the deal, But he also could be out in a year or so. My hypothesis is that his outcome will be less about what happens in our W-L record, and more about how it all happens – whatever that may be. One thing I have defended Lane against with his critics is when it comes to his video-game football (going for two for no reason, bypassing field goal attempts to go for it on 4th and 10, etc.) My defense was always simple: So far it hasn’t cost us a game. That’s it. But that has now changed. Disciplined teams kick make-able field goals to get early points on the board that may come in handy later. They don’t run reverse toss-around debacles on 4th and 2. It was wrong.

Overall Kiffin has been outstanding since coming back to USC and he has had the team ready to play in all the cases they needed to be. But this year, I see that slipping. He has a chance to restore some fan confidence in the weeks to come. But what exactly is causing the team to lead the entire country in penalties (I do know one of the answers)? Why do personal fouls keep coming from Senior leaders? Why, oh why, could our defense not stop a walk-on QB for two straight first downs when we DESPERATELY needed the ball back. (I do think that was the lowest point of the game – giving them two first downs and making us waste our timeouts before finally getting the ball back). Kiff is a heckuva recruiter, and he shows signs of being a great play-caller at times. But he seems to have a hard time avoiding media problems. The bulk of these are not his fault, but that is just a way of saying it is his fault (for putting himself in those positions). He lacks discipline, yet he is a young, committed, passionate coach. The video game stuff needs to come to an end. Football is a fundamental sport. Once we are all playing fundamentally solid football, then we can talk about jersey switches and banning reporters (even if they are idiots) and storming out of press conferences.

I’m not giving up on CLK, but he does bear a lot of the blame for the loss. Run the ball Saturday, Lane. Take what the defense gives you. And be dynamic and proactive in how we get the receivers in the game.

We CAN beat Oregon, but we can not get down big in the first quarter, and we can not put the ball on the carpet. Protect the ball. Get some 3 and out stops. I do not think they will defense Marqise Lee in man. We expect some cover two throughout the day, so I think Mark has a chance to hit Lee and Woods in the 15-yard range quite a bit, and we will need to run north-south with violence.

Our speedy linebackers and secondary handled Oregon last year, and we excelled at the open-field tackle. We will need more of that this year.

Lane and the team have a chance to salvage what is already a disappointing season, but they have work to do. We could go 4-0 and we could go 0-4. It is going to take the quick cohesion as a team, purges of all that has been bad, and sudden maturation to get where we want to go. It can happen. But will it?

Barkley has not had a holistic outstanding game yet this year. That game needs to be this coming Saturday. The running game has not exploded all year. It needs to be this week. The time is now.

We can still play for a Pac-12 championship with or without a win this weekend. But we won’t deserve it without a win this weekend.

Fight on Trojans. Do not give up.

Marqise Lee put on a performance like we have rarely seen in our Trojan lives. He single-handedly had this game won for the Trojans. The defense and the running backs owed this game to him. You have to do that for your teammates. In 1996 RJ Soward went out to Arizona State and ran kickoffs back for touchdowns, caught 260 yards by himself, and single-handedly had USC in a double OT thriller against Jake Plummer and the Devils. The team did not deliver a win to Soward. 16 years later it was deja vu. We have to get this done, Trojans.

I don’t know and don’t care what happened around the country this weekend. USC can finish strong, or the disappointment of 2012 can become severe. I am still holding up hope for the Rose Bowl. I certainly believe we can beat UCLA and Notre Dame. But this team is not mature or dependable, so I have to live off hope for now. Maybe there will be more to say soon. Fight on, and Beat the Ducks …