USC Football: Lane Kiffin Is Playing Tressel-Ball, but Why?

Amy LamareSenior Analyst IOctober 17, 2012

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 13:  Head coach Lane Kiffin of the USC Trojans looks on during the game against the Washington Huskies on October 13, 2012 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. The Trojans defeated the Huskies 24-14.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Tressel-Ball (adjective) definition via Wikipedia: “As Ohio State's head coach, Tressel is known for a conservative style of play calling (dubbed "Tressel-ball"), winning games with just enough scoring, strong defense, and "playing field position." Tressel often refers to the punt as the most important play in football. In most interviews, he credits the seniors on the team, foregoing praise for his younger players, in an attempt to promote those who have dedicated themselves to the Ohio State football program for a number of years.”

Does this sound like a certain head football coach in Los Angeles? And I am not talking about Jim Mora, Jr. just so we’re clear.

The Internet is ablaze with theories on why Lane Kiffin’s play-calling is so odd.  But why is it odd?  Quite simply it is not a typical Trojan game plan for an offense with so many weapons at wide receiver and tight end.

Kiffin and the USC Trojans are playing Tressel-ball. Slow. Methodical, boring—but effective. They are squeaking out just enough offense to win the game and relying on the defense to hold on.  One could say (and many have) that Kiffin is not using the offense to its fullest. Kiffin, like Tressel, even has a signature gameday outfit.

Some say (FTR a friend of mine) this is Kiffin’s way of preserving the team for the second half of their schedule. (My piece on that will run on Friday) I don't think that is the case.  I happen to feel there is a valid argument in there somewhere. The fans are being brats, but can you blame them?

Trojan fans know what the offense is capable of. They know that Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, Nelson Algohor, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, Silas Redd, Curtis McNeal and Mchael Morgan are capable of taking the crowd’s breath away.

They are capable of putting up 40-plus points while not seeming to overly exert themselves. They are capable of beauty—and every football fan knows the beauty of which I speak.

There’s the beauty in a perfectly thrown 50-plus-yard pass that is caught by a receiver who handles the ball with such grace that he might as well be catching an egg—that wouldn’t break upon impact mind you. 

There’s the beauty in a tailback that breaks several tackles by leaping and spinning before seeming to hit the rocket boosters on his shoes and go into hyper drive as he speeds down the sideline for the end zone.

Where is that from the USC offense this year? What is going on?

If Kiffin is, in fact, trying to preserve the O-line and keep Barkley from getting sacked—don’t you think his second-half adjustments would be effective and dynamic? As it is USC’s offense very nearly implodes in the second half.  

What is that? I mean, really, tell me, because I want to know.

Look, I’m not going to say that a limited passing offense, solid running game, and a defense that forces turnovers isn’t a winning strategy. It is, Jim Tressel employed it to enormous success at Ohio State. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t frustrate fans and onlookers alike. And sure, it isn’t the team’s job to excite the fans, it is their job to win games.

But Tressel-ball, USC style, is not going to win games in the second half of its 2012 schedule.

Tressel-ball might have been effective in the Big Ten of Tressel’s era. Mind you that same Big Ten that got clobbered by Pac-10, SEC and Big 12 teams each time (hyperbole, people—sheesh) they stepped out of their conference and cupcake scheduling.  Just take a look at Rose Bowls in the 2000s for examples.

As USC stares down the barrel of a schedule that boasts six opponents that are a combined 26-11, including 1-5 Colorado, if Kiffin has literally any sense whatsoever he knows that this methodical approach will not stand up against five of the Trojans’ last six opponents—most notably RichRod’s Arizona and Chip Kelly’s Oregon—both of whom run hurry up offenses that tend to leave these Trojans befuddled at best.

As for me, I like to tell myself that Lane Kiffin knows what he is doing. Sure, I may react in the moment, but down deep I feel like Kiffin has a master plan for dominance and success. The question remains as to whether this current crop of Trojans has had enough practice running a different sort of game—the sort that will win out the Pac-12 convincingly.

Time will tell, but my feeling is Trojan fans will find themselves with more than a few new grey hairs by the end of this season.