Why USC's Penalties Per Game Is a Reflection of Lane Kiffin

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterOctober 31, 2012

Oct. 27, 2012; Tucson, AZ, USA; USC Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin looks on prior to the game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE
Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

USC is No. 1 in one statistical category but before Trojan fans raise their fingers in a "v", put away all sharp objects. 

The USC Trojans are the most penalized team in the country. Fight on.

The team's weekly penalty tallies are grim, but last week's penalty party at Arizona was the breaking point: 13 penalties for 117 penalty yards. Six of those 13 penalties were personal fouls; not the garden variety five-yard penalties, mind you, but the 15-yard, automatic first down type of penalties that keep offensive drives alive.

USC, a team loaded with talent, is giving its opponents an average of almost 85 yards per game.

Here, take these precious yards. It's a gift from us. Do with it what you may.

Six personal fouls in one game? Eventually, someone is going to label USC a dirty team. I know a lot of these kids and they aren't dirty. They're good kids. And they're just as disgusted over these fouls as we are.

Many of the team's personal fouls are frustration fouls and, in some cases, retaliatory fouls.

Defensive tackle Leonard Williams was ejected from the Colorado game after throwing a punch at a Buffalo player. Some Trojan players claimed that a Colorado lineman spit on Williams and the Trojan freshman retaliated.

According to the Daily News, T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey both supported Williams' claim of being spit on but they also inferred his actions hurt the team.


What's bothersome about this whole situation is why these kids don't understand that the one player who retaliates usually gets the flag thrown at him. We've seen it over and over again in every sport, not just football.

One player will get a cheap shot in and yell for the ref, who then turns his attention to that player and only witnesses the retaliatory cheap shot.

It's like falling for the "pull my finger" gag every time. Why haven't they learned to just walk away?

The players bear some of responsibility, but in the end, this falls squarely on the head coach's shoulders.

Lane Kiffin, according to the LA Times, reportedly showed the team a "video montage of every major penalty they committed this season."

That probably won't change anything because this is a discipline problem, not a memory problem.

You can't show a movie to kids detailing what they did wrong and expect their behavior to change—they already know what they did wrong. They're committing penalties because whatever consequences they've suffered haven't been severe enough. They're committing penalties because they're not putting the team's welfare first. They're committing penalties because they're not able to control their emotions in heated moments.

The least penalized teams in FBS are Navy and Air Force while Army is the twelfth least penalized team. This should surprise absolutely no one because all three are service academies and their players have discipline drilled into their heads—their lives may depend on that later on when they are deployed. They also have enormous respect for their coaches.


Service academy players understand that lack of discipline can jeopardize a team. They also understand it will jeopardize lives in the arena of warfare. USC players need to understand that lack of discipline can affect their draft status. Just ask Vontaze Burfict. 

Other teams don't have this problem. Alabama is like a well-oiled machine because head coach Nick Saban demands it. There's probably a little bit of fear factor thrown in there as well. Saban doesn't put up with crap. 

Neither does Arizona State head coach Todd Graham. In an interview with Graham, the coach told me what the biggest change for the team was after he took over the job from Dennis Erickson.  

"I'm an old-school discipline guy," he admitted. "I believe in treating players with respect. You can come out and watch our practices — you won’t hear filthy language, but we are a disciplined team."

Last year the Sun Devils were the most penalized team in the country. This year? The fifth least penalized team in the country. 

The team reflects Graham because the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Right now, the Trojans are a reflection of Lane Kiffin.

Which is exactly...what?



From the start of spring camp, Kiffin has repeatedly stated his concern over the depth of his team and deservedly so because the NCAA's imposed sanctions have made it difficult for USC to be three-deep at certain positions.

It's not a stretch to assume that because of depth issues, some players may feel like their importance has become so tantamount that they don't have to have to listen to every little thing Kiffin preaches. 

In the end, they're going to play because Kiffin needs them to play. What's Kiffin going to do if a player is goofing off or making dumb decisions during a practice or a game? Bench him? And replace him with whom?

Sit him out one game? Against the Oregon Ducks this Saturday? That's not an option for a team lacking depth here, there, most everywhere.  

Giving the Ducks 80 to 100 yards all wrapped up in a pretty bow this Saturday is unfathomable; Oregon is already averaging over 540 offensive yards per game. USC could pull off the upset at the Coliseum, but not if another flag fest happens. Not if the Trojans continue this disturbing trend, a trend that has infected this program for quite some time.  

In Pete Carroll's last three years as head coach at USC, the Trojans were ranked No. 117, No. 117 and No. 95 in penalties.

In Kiffin's first year (2010), USC ended up ranked No. 99 in penalties. The following year USC was ranked No. 60.

Now USC is ranked No. 124 in penalties. Or No. 1, if you wear rose-colored glasses and like to look at the Trojans' massive collection of penalty yardage in a more positive light. 

In any case, the "lack of discipline" culture which existed prior to Kiffin's arrival still hasn't been corrected. 

But Lane Kiffin showed a video to his team.

Let's see how many Trojans pull a finger.


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