Give Kiffin This: He’s Honest
While there is still much to find out about USC’s Lane Kiffin and his ability to coach, one thing already seems clear.
He is refreshingly honest.
Asked what the identity of his football team was after its first two games, Kiffin paused for a moment, then offered his answer.
“I have no idea,” he said.
Trust me, Pete Carroll wouldn’t have responded that way. He would have danced around the question, framing and turning it in such a way that by the time he was finished, you would no longer have been sure what had been asked.
Kiffin is up front about things, maybe to his detriment at times. But it’s a nice, appealing change for now. We’ll see if it stays this way, because his first season is shaping up to be one wild ride.
Kiffin is not the only one unsure of the Trojans’ identity. You sense the players feel the same way. Part of it is because of the schedule. Their sluggish performance so far has been offset by the quality, or lack thereof, of the opposition. The next two games aren’t any different.
All indications are, USC will be the most mysterious 4-0 team in America in a couple of weeks.
At the moment, the Trojans are not blocking or tackling well and they have demonstrated absolutely no sense of discipline. Those are three discouraging components.
At the same time, this group does not lack for gifted athletes, especially at the skill positions. Matt Barkley has thrown seven touchdown passes with no interceptions so far, and he hasn’t even begun to tap the deep reservoir of talent at his disposal. Once he begins distributing the ball to not only Ronald Johnson but to Robert Woods, Dillon Baxter, Brice Butler, Stanley Havili and maybe even forgotten tight end Blake Ayles, this could be as explosive an offense as there is in the country.
There is a sense early on that Kiffin might be keeping some of these weapons under wraps, thinking he can win these first four without showcasing the entire arsenal, saving the big stuff for his Pac-10 opponents.
Maybe we’ll find out Saturday in Minnesota, where the Gophers defense is something less than menacing. Will the Trojans go after this Big 10 foe without its big guns? Or is it time to start getting the offense into some kind of rhythm? It will be interesting to see.
Defensively, too, this team has to show it can stop the run and put some kind of pressure on the quarterback. If those two things don’t happen, the potential explosiveness of the offense probably won’t matter.
Clearly, when Kiffin said he was unsure about the team’s identity, he wasn’t kidding.
My guess is we won’t find out everything on Saturday, either. Trojans fans will just have to be patient.
Chances are, we won’t know the real story until October.
PICKS OF THE WEEK — This is the second installment of our new blog feature, whereby we pick one college game and one pro game against the spread.
Last Week’s Record: 2-0.
Overall Record: 2-0. Hey, can I stop here and retire undefeated? Just kidding. I’m not fooled by the fast start. It’s a long season, especially picking against the spread. So let’s see what happens next:
Nebraska (minus 3) at Washington — The wise guys tell you to be careful picking against “home ‘dogs.” But you have to go with your gut, and mine tells me that Nebraska once again will forge one of the finest defenses in the country with tackle Jared Crick the new star. Washington, meanwhile, already has lost to BYU, and even with Jake Locker, I’m not sure Steve Sarkisian has enough talent yet, especially up front. U-Dub is a tough place to play, I know, but I keep thinking these Huskers are the real deal.
Texans (minus 3) at the Redskins — There I go again, ignoring the home dog. Houston simply seems like a team rising to a new level, coming off an impressive blowout of Peyton Manning and the Colts. Arian Foster is the league’s hot new name, and if he can keep churning out big yardage to go with Matt Shaub and Andre Johnson, these guys will be tough to beat. Donovan McNabb keeps the ‘Skins competitive, but they were fortunate to win last week against the flat Cowboys. I think the best team in Texas right now is Houston. And If Gary Kubiak’s guys win here, guess who they get at home the following week? Yep, Tony Romo and Co.
— STEVE BISHEFF