Lane Kiffin's tenure as USC's head football coach was a disappointment to say the least, as the Trojans failed to live up to national championship expectations last season and struggled to a 3-2 start under him this year. It has only been one game since his firing, and there is still work to be done, but it has become clear that Kiffin was doing more harm than good.
Southern Cal got back on track Thursday night with an important 38-31 home win over the conference-rival Arizona Wildcats. USC is still just 1-2 in the Pac-12 and 4-2 overall, but it was an important step forward for a team that has all the talent in the world but has lacked confidence.
The man behind USC's victory on Thursday was defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, who was elevated to interim head coach status following Kiffin's ouster. The team was absolutely ecstatic to come away with a win, and the players showed that by thanking Orgeron with a Gatorade shower:
The 38-31 score makes it seem like the Trojans had to grind out a win over the 3-2 Wildcats, but that wasn't really the case. USC held a 38-17 lead until there were less than seven minutes left in the game. Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker threw a pair of late scores to make things look respectable, but USC was pretty much in control from the onset.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about USC's win was the play of the offense. Orgeron is a defensive guy, while Kiffin was supposedly an offensive mastermind. Despite that, USC racked up 38 points, and quarterback Cody Kessler had a great game to the tune of 297 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The offense was very hit-and-miss under Kiffin as it had three games with 30 or more points but also had games of seven and 17 points, so it was impossible to say how USC's offense might perform on a weekly basis with Kiffin at the helm.
It remains to be seen if Orgeron is a long-term answer or simply a flash in the pan, but he certainly seems to have energized his players. As seen in this photo courtesy of USC athletics, Orgeron has a way of getting his players to rise to the occasion:
Coach O: "FOOTBALL IS FUN" pic.twitter.com/Ehlo3zocVR— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) October 11, 2013
The team seemed to agree that Orgeron has already changed the culture, and offensive tackle Kevin Graf even compared it to the glory days under current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, according to the Associated Press.
"I think Coach O really brought something special to us," said right tackle Kevin Graf, who was recruited by Orgeron's former boss, Pete Carroll. "Coach O really brought Coach Carroll back. That meant a lot to me."
Also, linebacker Hayes Pullard credited Orgeron with bringing a family atmosphere to the team, and that was clearly on display during the Trojans' triumph on Thursday night.
"We love Coach O like a dad," Pullard said. "We look up to him. That's a great feeling. That's the bond you want to have with your family."
Is USC better off without Lane Kiffin?
Kiffin seems like he should be a great head coach on the surface, as he has a creative offensive mind and a certain quality about him, but he has simply failed in that role. The Trojans performed well below expectations last season, and he struggled mightily in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders as well.
It's tough to pinpoint the contributing factors behind Kiffin's shortcomings, but it was obvious on Thursday night that USC's milquetoast identity was gone. The Trojans always had talent under Kiffin, but energy and belief can be half the battle.
Now that USC seems to have those qualities, it is still a factor in the Pac-12 race, especially with four winnable games coming up prior to a huge clash with No. 5 Stanford. If the Trojans are able to continue channeling what they brought to the table against Arizona, Orgeron may not be stuck with the interim tag for much longer.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter