I just have to get something off my chest about the USC Trojans. Living in Orange County, we get a lot of Trojan talk. All Trojan talk, all the time.
In the wake of USC's humbling loss at Stanford on Saturday, Head Coach Lane Kiffin was not very subtle in blaming the lack of offensive production on the fact that USC's starting center Khaled Holmes was not available to play due to an injury. Kiffin said that Stanford was the worst team on their schedule to play without their All-American center.
I call bullshit.
1. All teams have to deal with injuries. Half of Notre Dame's starting defensive backfield is now lost for the year due to a couple of blown Achilles tendons, just to name one random example off the top of my head. Losing one offensive lineman hardly seems adequate explanation for the utter ineffectiveness of what the media were proclaiming just a week ago to be the greatest offensive football team of all time! "Nine players from USC's offense will be playing football on Sundays" declared one pundit. If USC was really as awesome as everyone says (Pre-season #1!), the loss of one lineman wouldn't be that big of a deal. So maybe USC isn't as great as everyone says?
2. Holmes' injury wasn't a surprise. He didn't get hurt during the coin toss. The Trojan coaching staff has known for at least week that he was hurt and probably wouldn't be able to play. The media asked questions about Holmes' status all week. So Kiffin & Co. had plenty of time to come up with a plan to deal with the situation. The problem is, whatever plan Kiffin came up with didn't work. The plan, assuming they had a plan, failed miserably. That's a coaching failure.
3. Kiffin and Trojan Nation have been quick to note that Holmes was replaced at center by "a freshman." That's baloney. The backup center is Cyrus Hobbi, who is a red shirt freshman. In other words, he is really a sophomore. Graduated high school and started college in 2011. And he's no slouch. Hobbi was a 4-star recruit on both Rivals.com and Scout.com, just like Khaled Holmes (who was a 5th-year senior).
4. Hobbi wasn't playing alone out there. The tackles on the Trojan O-line are Aundrey Walker (Sophomore, 4-star recruit) and Kevin Graf (red shirt Jr., i.e., a Senior, 4-star recruit). The guards are Marcus Martin (Sophomore, 3-start recruit) and John Martinez (red shirt Junior, i.e., a Senior, 4-star recruit). It must be noted that Martinez, who was playing right next to Hobbi, was rated by Scout.com coming out of high school as the #1 prospect in the country AT CENTER.
So Kiffin, faced with the loss of his starting center, is able to pluck yet another 4-star center off the shelf and plug him in among the rest of his 4-star offensive line. He has at guard an experienced 4-star player who was at one time considered the top center prospect in the country. But Kiffin can't crack the code of how to get the line calls made against Stanford. I'm not a genius like Kiffin, but maybe, just maybe, USC could have slid Martinez over to center once Holmes got hurt. Or maybe leave Hobbi at center, but let Martinez (or even Graf) make the protection calls from the guard (or tackle) position.
That doesn't seem so hard. So what happened? Hubris happened. Despite the fact that USC was 0-3 in their previous three games against the Cardinal, Kiffin didn't respect Stanford enough to think that he needed to change anything to compensate for the loss of Holmes. He just thought USC would roll into Palo Alto, throw their jocks onto the field, and the Cardinal, playing without Andrew Luck, would roll over. Kiffin has gotten a lot of mileage about his "prep versus hype" mantra. But he started reading his own press clippings and he bought into the hype. He and his staff failed to properly prepare his team and they got whipped. He can't blame one injury. He can't blame Matt Barkley. He can only look in the mirror and blame himself.