No one is suggesting USC could’ve outlasted Oregon in the track meet masquerading as a football game at the L.A. Coliseum Saturday. But in at least one instance, Trojan Coach Lane Kiffin cost his team a precious possession during USC’s 53-32 loss to the Ducks.
(Amateur video: You can hear Kiffin whistle that distracted Barkley)
With the Trojans leading 17-15 midway through the second quarter and quarterback Matt Barkley lined up in shotgun formation at midfield, USC center Kris O’Dowd snapped the ball past Barkley, allowing Oregon to recover the miscue.
Josh Jovanelly of the DAILY TROJAN described the play as it happened on the DT’s live blog:
The Trojans had momentum on their side when Barkley lined up in the shotgun. He lifted his foot to signal the snap, but was distracted by a whistle (apparently from a coach) coming from the USC sideline. He turned his head and the ball was snapped.
Jovanelly nailed it. The distraction came when Kiffin, in trying to get Barkley’s attention during the snap count, whistled loudly in the direction of the QB. When Barkley turned his head to the sideline, the ball was snapped passed him.
Moments later Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas turned the USC turnover into six points with a 45-yard touchdown strike to Jeff Maehl, immediately erasing the Ducks’ deficit. Oregon scored again before halftime, taking a 29-17 lead to the break en route to its eventual three touchdown victory.
But was that Kiffin-wrought change of possession really crucial to the outcome of the game?
According to USC running Marc Tyler, yes.
“That fumble on the center snap when Matt (Barkley) looked at coach (Lane Kiffin), that was the key (to the USC loss).” Tyler told reporters Monday.
Scott Wolf of the L.A. DAILY NEWS noted of the play:
Barkley called the play a “miscommunication.” Kiffin said the goal was to freeze the defense but the play went awry. “I didn’t call a very good game,” Kiffin said.
It’s one thing as an O.C. for Kiffin to not call plays that help his offense move the ball. It’s quite another for him to be the direct reason that same offense actually coughs up the ball.
Is this a sign that perhaps Kiffin should consider sharing some of the load as head coach and offensive coordinator? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think so.