USC Football: Is Lane Kiffin Calling Plays for USC in 2013 a Big Mistake?

Lisa HornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterDecember 19, 2012

November 10, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin speaks to media following the 38-17 victory against the Arizona State Sun Devils at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

USC head coach Lane Kiffin will be the Trojans' play caller for the 2013 season, according to ESPN reporter Pedro Maura

Before Trojan fans situate themselves closer to a bridge, think before you jump.

Kiffin does have offensive coordinator experience—two years' worth when he was then-head coach Pete Carroll's offensive coordinator. But there's more. He also has three years of play-calling experience as USC's head coach. OK, so maybe that won't talk down some Trojan fans. 

Granted, his play-calling has been vanilla (read: dull and predictable) and for the most part, lacks the spark to ignite a dead Christmas tree soaked in gasoline, but that could change with a new defensive coordinator.

Wait, what? What does a defensive coordinator have to do with how dull Kiffin's play-calling has been?


When a team's defense yields more chunks of turf than a John Deere floating hitch-field cultivator, the offense has to play more conservatively to keep the other team's offense off the field.

Of course, a monster offense (think West Virginia or Baylor) that can throw up 50 points in a shootout is a different animal, but you get the idea—if your defense surrenders points rather easily, the best course of action is to run the ball, chew up the clock and move the chains, not pass the ball and risk clock stoppages due to incompletions or turnovers. 

Good defense not only makes the offense's job a lot easier to manage, it creates more opportunities for a decidedly riskier play call. If a gamble doesn't pay off, at least the defense can keep your team in the game. 

USC's defense has been porous all year, but it's not due to lack of talent—the Trojan defense is littered with 5-stars. The problem has been the type of defense that former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin employed: The Tampa/Cover 2. 

At first this defense appeared to be a brilliant idea because the Tampa 2 requires defensive players with great speed, and USC's defensive talent is very fast. The problem is that in a Tampa 2, the middle linebacker drops back into coverage to protect against the pass while individual linemen are responsible for specific gaps. That won't stop a spread attack. Or an accurate passer.

Simply put, a Tampa 2 defense has some soft zones that will get exploited when receivers flood a zone or run seam routes—one defensive back can't cover multiple players in his zone nor one player skirting two zones.

The Cover 2 attempts to fix that problem by having the middle linebacker drop into middle-deep coverage, but that requires the two outside linebackers to cover more field. Against an Oregon-type spread rushing attack, the middle becomes prone to large yardage gains.

Obviously, USC couldn't stop the spread attack or a team with an accurate passer this season. A new defensive coordinator should turn things around rather quickly since he will have a ton of talent with which to work.

With a new-and-improved defense, Kiffin now has a whole new outlook on calling plays. He will take risks.

I can't promise Kiffin won't ever call a 3rd-and-4 sweep or a 4th-and-2 toss sweep. I can promise he won't send a tail back up the middle every time on 3rd-and-5—that play is now ingrained in every defensive coordinator's brain—because Kiffin wants to keep his job.

So instead, we could see a little more of this.

Or this. (Try not to get too sentimental watching the outstanding defensive plays). 

Kiffin calling plays a mistake? Nah. Fix the defense and excessive penalties and everything else will fall into place.

 Trojan fans, you may now step away from the bridge.