USC head coach Lane Kiffin gets a lot of criticism—some of it deserved, some of it not.
Part of Kiffin's polarizing image may be due in part to the University of Tennessee's fans who loudly voiced their disdain toward the former Tennessee coach over his abrupt departure from Knoxville.
Apparently, a coach doesn't don't leave an SEC school—especially to go to the Pac-12—unless they say he can leave.
One of the current criticisms of Kiffin, however, may be well-justified—his play calling.
Fans and sportswriters all probably questioned Kiffin's play calling at some point during the 2012 season—not the entire games' play calls mind you, but specific down-and-yardage situations in those games.
USC at Utah, October 4
This game started out as a nightmare for USC. After giving up two turnovers on their first two possessions, USC found itself down 14-0 within the game's opening three minutes. The Trojans eventually rallied and were only down 14-7 midway through the first quarter. At the end of the first quarter, Utah punted and USC quickly marched into Utah territory after a Silas Redd 21-yard romp.
On a 3rd-and-5 with USC's ball on Utah's 6-yard line very early in the second quarter, what did Kiffin call?
A pitch-slant play behind the line of scrimmage. Calling a play that has a high potential for losing yardage in the red zone is usually not a good idea. The defense will be pinched in because it doesn't have a lot of field to protect—and that's exactly what happened as all three linebackers were crowding the box.
Redd was stopped for a four-yard loss and USC would have to settle for a field goal. The Trojans won due to outstanding play calling in the second half by Kiffin, so he gets credit for that, but that one particular play didn't sit well for many—ESPN broadcaster Rece Davis called it USC's "Achilles heel."
Final: USC 38 Utah 28
USC at Arizona, October 27
The 6-1 Trojans were up by as many as 15 points over the Wildcats early in the third quarter but Arizona's spread offense caused problems for USC's defense throughout the game. With less than a minute left in the game, a Trojan field goal would have sent the game into overtime.
With a 1st-and-10 at Arizona's 48, down 39-36,19 seconds left and about 20 yards outside of field goal range, what did Kiffin call?
Kiffin called for a deep sideline pass to a double-covered Marquise Lee but quarterback Matt Barkley overthrew him. With only five seconds left on the clock, there was no guessing what the final play call would be and true to form, the Hail Mary came...and went. Game over.
Why didn't Kiffin call for spiking the ball at midfield to get his team into a sideline huddle and have one (or two) plays ready to get into field goal range?
After the game, Kiffin responded to that question.
"If I could do it all in slow motion, I would have spiked the ball, but more for the fact it would give Marqise a blow there," Kiffin said. "I probably would have done that if I could do it again."
Final: Arizona 39 USC 36
USC vs Notre Dame
Notre Dame's defense had been the strength of the team all season but Kiffin was apparently ready to challenge it head on. To understand the magnitude of how poorly Kiffin's play calling was in the fourth quarter, consider this: USC had the ball at Notre Dame's 2-yard line down 22-13 with 5:40 left in the game and ran eight plays without getting into the end zone—three of the plays were negated by penalties and two plays included consecutive quarterback sneaks.
What really made that whole goal line series suspect was that over three minutes were taken off the clock—if USC had scored a touchdown, it would either have had to recover an onside kick or stop Notre Dame's offense and try to kick a game-winning field goal with about two minutes or less left in the game.
Moreover, earlier in the fourth quarter, USC had previously tried to rush the ball with a 1st-and-goal at Notre Dame's 4-yard line and saw no success—Andre Heidari would end up kicking a field goal to make the score 19-13 in favor of Notre Dame.
Why continue to run the ball against the Fighting Irish inside the 10-yard line when their defense had only surrendered two rushing touchdowns all season? Stanford had also previously tried to run against Notre Dame's goal line defense earlier in the season and it too had no success.
Final: Notre Dame 22 USC 13
USC vs Oregon, November 3
In a game where defense was almost nonexistent, USC thought it would be a good idea to punt the ball to Oregon near midfield. More from LA Times Bill Plaschke:
Early in the fourth quarter, down by 10 points with the ball at their 42-yard line, on fourth and six, Kiffin decided to punt for the first time. Yep, he gave the ball back to an unstoppable offense with the game on the line.
A dozen plays later, the Ducks scored on the umpteenth Barner untouchable run to clinch the victory.
Said Kiffin: “There's some things I could have done better as far as calling plays.”
Final: Oregon 62 USC 51
In which one area does USC need to improve the most this season?
Last year also saw some questionable calls but one particular decision by Kiffin stuck out more than others.
USC vs Stanford, 2011
USC and Stanford were tied at 34 when USC had the ball at Stanford's 40 with nine seconds left in regulation.
What did Kiffin call?
Quarterback Matt Barkley threw a screen pass to Robert Woods who ran to the far sidelines at Stanford's 33—it appeared he had gotten out of bounds with one second left but the referee ruled that time had expired, thus sending the game into overtime. The play was controversial in that Kiffin had been reportedly assured by a sideline judge during the play's review that he would get a timeout to attempt a game-winning field goal—Kiffin never got it.
Screen passes take time to develop and although Woods has great speed, why risk running out the clock and negating a shot to win the game? Why not pass to a receiver on an out route? Or a Y delay?
Final: Stanford 56 USC 48 (3OT)
Sure it's easy to be an armchair quarterback but when a head coach admits that he could have done better in as far as calling plays, score a point for the armchair quarterback.
This year we may see better play calling because Kiffin's hot seat is, well...hot. If the defense improves under Clancy Pendergast, we could actually see a new-and-improved image of Kiffin.
But for Trojan fans, Lane Kiffin holding a bouquet of red roses and/or a crystal football are the only two images that will be acceptable at the end of the 2103 season.
The BCS Championship will be held at the Rose Bowl this season.