Georgia Tech sparks old memories for Kiffin

When USC faces Georgia Tech’s option attack on New Year’s Eve in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, it’ll be unlike anything they’ve seen all season.

In Monte Kiffin’s last dance working under his son as USC’s defensive coordinator, he’s burdened with the task of facing an offense that is so uncommon in today’s game that he has to think back to the last time he faced it.

“It’s actually been a while,” Kiffin said.

Going back down memory lane, Kiffin made a stop in Jan. 1, 1978.

As a defensive coordinator at Arkansas under then-head coach Lou Holtz, No. 6 Arkansas faced No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

There was a national title on the line for the Sooners, led by head coach Barry Switzer and future Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims. They were a huge favorite and that was before Holtz made a controversial decision to suspend three of his starters for disciplinary reasons.  

“They hadn’t played each other in 50 years,” said Kiffin of the meeting between Oklahoma and Arkansas. “That’s when Lou Holtz suspended three players. We were an 18-point underdog and we beat them 31-6.”

Running the Wishbone, the Sooners turned the ball over on the third play of the game on a Sims fumble, which led to an Arkansas touchdown.

The Razorbacks never trailed. Kiffin’s defense recovered three fumbles and also had an interception.

Arkansas outrushed Oklahoma, 317-230. Stepping in for suspended running back Ben Cowins, Roland Sales rushed for a then-Orange Bowl record 205 yards and two touchdowns.

Facing Wishbone offenses was common place for Kiffin during his first tour of duty as a college coach.

“Earlier in the 70s when I was a young coach at Nebraska, UCLA ran the Wishbone. We played Alabama in the national championship (in) 1971 (against) Bear Bryant,” Kiffin said. “A lot of people ran the Wishbone at that time. (Georgia Tech’s offense) is very similar. Right now it’s called the Double Wing but it’s still triple option football. You got a dive quarterback and a pitch.”

Trying to slow down the Ramblin Wreck goes against everything the Trojans have been taught to do defensively from fall camp until now. Georgia Tech is all run, all the time, featuring six players who have rushed for over 400 yards on the season for head coach Paul Johnson.

“You have to be very disciplined,” Kiffin said. “There’s no doubt about it. They can make people look silly. They do a really good job. The guy’s (Paul Johnson) been doing it a long time. (He) did it at Navy (and now) down at Georgia Tech. Like anybody else, he’s run this offense so much. If you do this, he does this. He knows how to counter. He’s an excellent coach.

“I say if you’re a great coach, put it on tape. He puts it on tape.”

Watching the Yellow Jackets on film, the Trojans are preparing to stop an offense different than anything they’ve seen this year. Although they have faced their fair share of run heavy offenses this season, when it comes to scheme, nothing is similar to Georgia Tech.

“It’s a totally different deal,” Kiffin said. “You have to spend a lot of time at it. You got to have a great look by your Service Team. They do a great job cut blocking. The quarterback’s really good.

“It’s not like (anything we’ve seen). It’s not like Oregon. It’s not like Washington. It’s not like our offense. It’s not even like a spread offense. It’s totally different. It’s about 90 percent run but then they do a great job.”