USC walked into the Arizona desert brimming with confidence but left with its second loss of the season.
Shocking? No. Surprising? Yes.
It's not that the loss to an unranked team is shocking—USC fans should be used to that by now. It's not that the loss included another Matt Barkley performance that was subpar and riddled with sailing passes.
It was the manner in which USC lost that was so shocking. The Trojans got out-coached.
We all knew Rich Rodriguez was a talented coach. We just didn't expect to see Rodriguez turn around a team that only returned 12 starters from last year's 4-8 squad so quickly.
We didn't expect a team that was ranked No. 1 in the preseason to suddenly look like it's Maaco Bowl or bust.
We didn't expect Trojan head coach Lane Kiffin to sit on a 28-13 lead and then squander it. Did he not learn from Stanford? Even Syracuse was a teachable moment, despite the Trojans finally putting away the Orange in the fourth quarter.
We didn't expect the current discipline issues to continue. The Trojans are now the most penalized team in the country. Fight on. Literally.
What we did expect was for players to have it completely drilled into their heads that they can't make any dumb mistakes that cost the team. This isn't on the players, this is on the coaching staff.
Memo to Lane Kiffin: Dennis Erickson was let go from Arizona State for his players' lack of discipline, among other things. If the coaching staff can't make players understand that their actions can cause a player to get ejected (hello, Leonard Williams) and deplete an already thin team, then there is a problem.
What we did expect was for Kiffin to have an aggressive game plan with a balanced offense that would eventually open up the passing game so, you know, that quarterback who had unfinished business could take a shot at the Heisman. Instead, Barkley is watching his draft stock start to inch downward.
We did expect for the defense to be gassed because of the its thin depth and youth. What we didn't expect was a true freshman to start at left tackle though Max Tuerk did an outstanding job. There is hope for the O-line.
This can all be rectified in a week, but Oregon isn't exactly the team to test new waters against, now is it? Neither are Arizona State, UCLA or Notre Dame.
Marqise Lee's 469 all-purpose yard performance was completely wasted in Tucson. Lee was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half, but Kiffin inexplicably ventured away from what was working and instead, made questionable play calls.
On a critical 4th-and-2, Kiffin called for a reverse. Of course it didn't work. Kiffin's go-to-guy, Marqise Lee, never had a chance on that play. Lee, by the way, also didn't have a reception in the third quarter.
Kiffin's got some 'splaining to do.
Former Trojan offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was known for his unimaginative and vanilla-flavored offense and recently, Kiffin's recent play-calling has been compared to Bates'. It's the ultimate insult, to be honest.
But the solution to vanilla or predictable play-calling is to not go crazy and call a play that defies logic and makes Charlie Weis nod in approval.
Were our expectations too high? Yes.
The signs were all there of an impending loss: Lack of discipline, questionable play-calling, inexperience, youth and coming off of a blowout over Colorado.
We should have not been surprised by this loss to Arizona.
Maybe, just maybe, the Trojans were looking ahead to their date with the Ducks.
Yeah, I'm not buying that either.
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