Lane Kiffin reaches new low in USC's loss to Notre Dame

Harry How

After a disappointing regular season, culminating in Saturday's loss to No. 1 Notre Dame, USC head coach Lane Kiffin will have to make adjustments if the Trojans are to improve.

With every passing week, this USC Trojans team has managed to find new ways to underwhelm. But after exhausting the label of "disappointing" throughout the month of November, the Trojans' 22-13 loss to the visiting Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday ended the regular season with a whimper for USC.

Embarrassing.

Remember, this Trojan team was suppose to usurp the SEC dominance and bring equality in college football. Instead, USC has turned the opposite direction in the second half of the season, losing four of the last five games.

From pre-season No. 1 to a team unranked, the Trojans completed its collapse after losing to their national rival on Saturday.

Who is to blame? Let's start with the person leading the slide: Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin entered the season with his notable phrase "Prep Not Hype" be the staple slogan for this team. It's what helped them win 10 games last season with huge wins at Notre Dame and Oregon, it's what materialized the team's mentality and attitude before each game during the season.

But look at the numbers in the Trojans' five losses this season, and the first quarter scoring:

at Stanford: 7-7
at Arizona: 0-10
vs. Oregon: 3-14
at UCLA: 0-17
vs. Notre Dame: 0- 10

USC was outscored 58-10 in the first quarter in their five losses. Now I understand a slow start, but to have a trend of games where the Trojans look on the scoreboard only to see donut holes in the first quarter is tragic to the preparation of the team.

What about halftime adjustments? Here are the scoring numbers in the third quarter of those losses:

at Stanford: 0-7
at Arizona: 7-13
vs. Oregon: 14-14
at UCLA: 6-7
vs. Notre Dame: 0- 3

Not as bad as the first quarter, yet the Trojans were still outscored 44-27 to begin the second half.

All five losses were to teams ranked in the top 25. USC did not beat a ranked team this season, but went 7-0 in the other games.

A far cry from last season, Kiffin was out-coached on five different occasions this year, which is absurd for a team as talented as the Trojans.

With 10 returning starters on offense, USC was thought to be a scoring juggernaut. I wrote in the pre-season that we may see scoring numbers that rival the past Leinart/Bush-led USC teams.

But this team regressed on offense, and averaged 34.2 points per game this season after averaging 35.8 points in 2011.

What has been the difference? Turnovers and penalties. USC is in the bottom 10% in the nation in giveaways and flags, and that lack of discipline only points to the coaches.

The defense? We've already been there. Quick tempo teams hammered USC's defense to where we have defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin enter witness protection program because of the anger expressed by the USC faithful.

So where do we go from here? Athletic director Pat Haden mentioned after UCLA's loss that Lane is "150%" his guy going into next season.

But in the coming winter months, look for dramatic changes in the coaching staff. First and foremost, Lane has to tell his father, Monte, that the college game is a changed landscape from the NFL.

It's going to be tough, but Lane has reviewed games more than enough that his father is not the answer. USC is allowed opponents to convert on third down at 37.3% of the time, 8th in Pac-12, but 42.6% against ranked opponents, 9th in conference.

The goal is to be on top of the conference in numbers, not the bottom. Monte's soft-style "prevent" defense has suffered. Players dropping back into coverage before the quarterback even snaps the ball, allowing for a running back or mobile QB to skewer the defense.

Aside from a change at defensive coordinator, Kiffin must hire an offensive coordinator that must have a higher say in play calls.

In the fourth quarter in Saturday night's loss to Notre Dame, USC was on the two-yard line, poised to score a touchdown after a remarkable catch by Marqise Lee on a deep ball by Max Wittek.

This is the series of plays Kiffin called:

1st and goal at ND 1: QB sneak, no gain
2nd and goal at ND 1: QB sneak, no gain
3rd and goal at ND 1: Curtis McNeal rush, no gain
4th and goal at ND 1: Pass incomplete to fullback Soma Vainuku

Not only did this goal-line stand by Notre Dame keep USC from scoring, but the Trojans managed to burn 3:25 off the clock on the drive.

The regular season is over. USC is going bowling, but it will be a lesser bowl. What's Kiffin thinking at this moment? I'm not sure, but rational decisions have to be made. In a season where Kiffin managed not to adjust against ranked opponents, he's going to have to adjust now.

It's time for a fresh start.

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