When you have absolutely nothing to lose, shouldn't that be the time you open the playbook and throw caution to the wind?
Even if you have a redshirt freshman quarterback with a cannon arm?
Yes. And yes.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin held a play sheet dear to his chest as he and his USC Trojans played the No. 1 team in the country on their own turf. The play sheet was conservative. The play sheet was predictable. And that's a shame when you consider that the Trojan defense, surrendering ground all season like the French in World War II, actually did its part.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish beat USC, 22-13, and despite being favored in the game, the No. 1 team in the country didn't look like No. 1.
The much-maligned Trojan defense held Notre Dame to only one touchdown. One touchdown. And five field goals.
The play-calling by Kiffin in the fourth quarter was just soooo...safe. Three up-the-gut calls against the Irish defense with less than two minutes to play and down by two scores. It was like Kiffin was playing for a meaningful bowl.
What he should have been playing for was crushing Notre Dame's hopes. And winning over the recruits at this game.
Instead, we got a a redshirt freshman who made a few mistakes but made USC fans salivate at the future with Max Wittek under center. The kid has an arm.
What we got was a coach playing it safe with a team that really wanted to end its season on a high note. That wanted to erase that foul-tasting 38-28 loss to UCLA. That wanted to prove it wasn't overrated when it was ranked at No. 1 in the preseason.
All for naught. All of it.
The defense played its heart out. It was clearly undermatched, but only because of the schemes it was forced to play—Monte Kiffin's zone coverage was softer than a baby's bottom. USC's defense didn't roll over to the No. 1 team in the country. USC's vanilla offense rolled over to the No. 1 team in the country.
And Lane Kiffin was calling the plays for that offense.
For all the hate and vitriol that has been spewed Kiffin's way, the one thing he can hang his hat on is the outstanding job he's done in recruiting. But how awful is a 7-5 record considering the ridiculous amount of talent he has on that team?
The Trojans are littered with 5-star athletes. Kiffin recognizes great talent and actually develops that great talent. The problem with USC is its schemes, specifically on defense and, lately, on offense.
The tight ends weren't even involved in this game. Kiffin admitted during his press conference that he was limited in plays. But shouldn't every Trojan player know student body right? Why wasn't that called on 1st-and-goal against a stacked box on the Notre Dame 1-yard line? Or 2nd-and-goal at the Irish 1-yard line?
Instead, Kiffin called for two consecutive quarterback sneaks. So predictable.
The game was a nail-biter and for that, USC should be grateful. The Trojans fought to the bitter end. There's respite in knowing the team didn't roll over to the No. 1 team in the nation.
Kiffin should be safe in his job because of his outstanding recruiting, coupled with athletic director Pat Haden actually saying Kiffin's job was safe.
But next year is the litmus test. Rose Bowl or bust.
The clock is ticking.