USC’s keys to success: No. 2, Lane Kiffin

Was he trying to get Matt Barkley the Heisman? Did that focus later shift to Marqise Lee?

It seemed as if there was a lot of swinging and missing for Lane Kiffin last season as a playcaller.

Questions arose. Could Lane Kiffin continue to be the USC head coach and call plays?

He took a step back in the spring allowing offensive coordinator Clay Helton to run the offense.

But soon enough, Kiffing stepped right back in with a subtle, not so under the radar announcement that he would once again be calling plays for the USC offense in 2013.

Kiffin detractors point to his inability to look up while his head is buried in the “Denny’s menu” of a play card he has with him on Saturdays. Some ask, does he even see the play after he makes the call?

After last season’s debacle, USC fans were calling for the defensive coordinator to be replaced and the playcaller as well.
 
What went wrong?
 
In 2011, Kiffin was lauded as a sensational playcaller. He had two 1,000-yard receivers in Robert Woods and Lee and continuously found ways to get them the ball.
 
In 2012, collectively, they got the ball more — 194 combined receptions in 2012 compared to 184 in 2011.
 
As far as the running game goes, the Trojans averaged 5.0 yards per carry for the second consecutive season.
 
While Kiffin detractors continued to tear down the USC coach as a playcaller for USC’s abysmal 2012, he contends his play calling wasn’t an issue last season.
 
Interceptions were — Barkley threw seven interceptions in 2011 and 15 last season. Was that a byproduct of forcing the ball to Lee too much?
 
Kiffin will tell you the combination of Lee and Woods actually had more receiving yards in 2012 (2,567) than they did in 2011 (2,435). More on that in a bit.
 
Importance of Kiffin

The job of head coach and play caller is not an easy one. While most playcallers have the luxury of being in the coaches box where they can lay out all of their notes and there’s less chaos around them, head coaches don’t have that liberty as they are needed on the sidelines to manage all facets of the game. That doesn’t mean successful head coaches can’t be successful playcallers. Look no further than Chip Kelly, who called the Ducks offense while transforming them into a national power.

While there have been no concrete answers from USC regarding what happened last season, one thing that cannot be put into any statistical category is rhythm. Too many times last season, the USC offense looked like they just weren’t in sync. That responsibility, in part, falls on the offensive coordinator who’s job is to make sure he puts his team in positions to achieve success early in order to develop a good rhythm throughout the game and in the case of USC having so many weapons, keeping everyone involved. The drives in which the wealth was shared were few. There were plenty of drives in which the offense looked very one-dimensional.

Number of Note: 46

The Trojans ran the ball on 46 percent of their plays over the course of the last two seasons. Their rushing attempts, 392, and average, 5.0, were identical in each of those seasons. Kiffin has expressed he would like to see the yards per rush increase. As playcaller, he may also need the team’s percentage of runs to increase along with it with the team having a young quarterback in the fold in either Max Wittek or Cody Kessler.

2012 recap

USC was sixth in the conference in points last season, averaging 32.1 points per game down from the 35.8 they averaged in 2011. They were also less efficient in the pass game with a rating of 145.6 compared to the 161.1 rating of 2011. The 161.1 rating was good enough for second in the conference in 2011 but would have led the conference last season.

Quoteables

“We have a unique relationship with the skilled guys, offensive guys, (play calling is) important because you’re communicating with them so much and I think there is an impact in recruiting,” Kiffin said.

2013 outlook

There’s been talk about whether Kiffin can return to his 2011 form which is a little overblown. Sure, 7-6 says a lot but the numbers back up the USC head coach when he says the offensive production in 2012 compared to 2011 wasn’t that far off. A huge discrepancy was the interceptions, which were doubled last season. But, even with that, turnover margin through the course of the season was similar — minus 2 last season, minus 1 the year before. The balance is something USC has to get back to. Not just run/pass balance in particular — 46/52 run/pass ratio isn’t bad at all — but balance as it relates to production of skill players.

Case in point, sure, Lee and Woods had more combined receiving yards in 2012 but Lee had nearly 1,000 more yards than USC’s No. 2 receiver last season and over 1,400 more yards than its No. 3 pass catcher. The year before, less than 150 yards separated the team’s No. 1 and 2 pass catchers. Nelson Agholor has quietly performed well in scrimmages in fall camp and with a running game that Kiffin says could be the best the school’s had in years, he should get back to spreading the wealth opposed to being one-dimensional.