USC is a far different team this year than last. The entire personality of the Trojans has been turned upside down. Last season the offense put up the numbers while the defense not only sputtered, but collapsed, late in games.
So far this season, it is the defense that is finishing strong while the offense cannot get out of its own way.
Just like their first game against Minnesota, the USC offense started out strong and looked like they would run away with the game. But three turnovers—two in the red zone—and untimely penalties put the game squarely on the shoulders of the defense.
Last week the problem rested with offensive play-calling; this week it fell on the players. A misread by Matt Barkley in the red zone resulted in an interception. Then two tight end fumbles by Xavier Grimble, one in the red zone and one immediately after a forceful defensive stand, led to both Utah touchdowns.
But all in all, how did Lane Kiffin’s offensive play-calling do up against his former mentor, Norm Chow, on the Utah sideline?
This is the fourth time that Kiffin has had to face off against Chow—once with the Raiders, once with the University of Tennesse (when they played UCLA), and again last year when the Trojans took on UCLA.
Kiffin was an offensive assistant under Norm Chow, the offensive coordinator at USC from 2001-2004 during the Pete Carroll era. Some say that Carroll forced Chow out so he could promote Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian to share the top offensive duties.
While it is difficult to grade two coordinators who are facing completely different defenses, we can determine how well each one is able to either execute their game plan or take what the defense gives them.
Both Kiffin and Chow run a pro-style West Coast attack, and both want to have as balanced an attack as possible between the run and pass.
In that regard, Kiffin appears to have been more successful than his former mentor. Last week Kiffin’s offense had twice as many passes as runs. This week, he turned it around, and the rushes outdid the passes by a slight margin of 39 to 32.
Chow offense, on the other hand, had to succumb to a strong Trojan front seven, and Chow could not mix it up as much as he might have wanted. USC’s defense forced Chow to go to a pass-heavy attack.
Utah only ran the ball 25 times while quarterback Jordan Wynn put the ball up 46 times. But those 25 rushes were not effective. Chow uses the run so the defense will have to respect it, and that, in turn, loosens up the passing attack.
That just did not happen for Chow Saturday night, as the Trojans front seven completely disrespected the Utah rush.
Although they gained 108 yards on the ground, they lost 28 yards on quarterback sacks. And 51 of those yards came on a trick play—an end-around reverse direction with wide receiver Reggie Dunn. Besides that one play, Utah only gained 57 yards on 24 running plays (or 2.4 yards per carry).
Lane Kiffin, on the other hand, used his big back returning from suspension, Marc Tyler, to carry 24 times for 113 yards and a 4.7 average.
Overall, the Trojans rushed 39 times for 152 yards or nearly four yards per carry.
Norm Chow called for 46 pass plays and Jordan Wynn successfully completed just half of them for 238 yards, or a very short 5.2 average.
His Trojan counterpart, Matt Barkley, completed 20 passes out of 32 attempts for 263 yards and an 8.2-yard average.
Overall, Kiffin’s offense out-gained Chow’s by nearly a hundred yards—415 vs. 320—but Kiffin’s offense committed three turnovers to just one for the Utes. Those alone could have given the Trojans an extra 10 points or more.
This year, Kiffin once again took on Norm Chow and came out on top. But Norm will be in Utah for another two years, at least. So, he will have a couple more chances to challenge Lane Kiffin and the Trojans.