2010 College Football: Lane Kiffin Era Begins at USC With Questions, Win

Benjamin MiraskiContributor ISeptember 3, 2010

Lane Kiffin and his father have a lot of questions to address at USC despite a win.
Lane Kiffin and his father have a lot of questions to address at USC despite a win.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Lane Kiffin era officially began with a 49-36 win over Hawaii.

It will continue with the same questions that have haunted Kiffin everywhere he has been.

USC's talent eventually overcame the Warriors, even though Hawaii proved they can probably play with 90 percent of the teams in the country after their gutsy offensive performance.

The tipping point came midway through the third quarter when Ronald Johnson piled on the speed as he returned a Hawaii punt 89 yards for a touchdown. The score put USC up 34-16 and the momentum from that score seemed to ignite a fire under the Trojans.

They never needed to look back again even though Hawaii chewed up large chunks of the field on every possession and scored almost as easily as the Trojans.

There were three things that stood out during the game—

The first was a comment by Kiffin to ESPN prior to the game, where he said all the recruiting violations he committed at Tennessee were to draw attention to the program. And Kiffin added he wouldn't need to do that any longer at USC because there is enough attention on the Trojans already.

It doesn't seem prudent to openly flaunt that you broke the rules on purpose. Yet, that is what Lane Kiffin did.

He just doesn't seem to get it. He has never proven that he can be the head coach and win on any level. And yet he walks around as if he had one hand dragging on the ground because of the weight of five championship rings.

With USC currently under probation for the lack of organizational discipline during the Reggie Bush years, when Kiffin was part of the coaching staff, it doesn't make sense to draw even more attention to your coaching or recruiting practices.

Kiffin needs to learn to keep his mouth shut, especially until his USC teams have shown they deserve to walk with the same swagger that was commonplace under the Pete Carroll regime.

And that means winning, something that wasn't a given Thursday night.

That was an issue thanks to the second worry, the Trojan defense. With Monte Kiffin coming on board to run what once was one of the most feared units in college football, it was assumed the Trojan defense would only improve.

Yet against a smaller Hawaii team and an offense that Kiffin had all summer to prepare for, the USC defense just looked flat. The former swarm mentality just didn't seem to be there and they surrendered 588 yards—63 more than the powerful Trojan offense could put together.

The players seemed frustrated with their own faulty performance. Late in the third, linebacker Michael Morgan laid a forearm into the head of Warrior quarterback Brent Muniz. Muniz had to be helped off of the field and missed the remainder of the game (If Muniz had remained in at quarterback, this one might have come down to the wire).

It was a lack of discipline on the field that hadn't been present under Carroll.

And this was a team expected to win the Pac-10 by many of the experts, despite their coaching changes and the distractions that racked their offseason.

It doesn't look like such a safe bet now. On the plus side, USC has two more weeks of easier opponents before the conference games begin against doormat Washington State.

The one thing that does appear to be working the way it is supposed to is the play of Matt Barkley, who was able to tear up the Hawaii defense at will. Without him, USC would have been opening the season with a big black mark on their record, a loss out of conference against a weaker opponent.

All of the skills players came through. Barkley (257 yards passing, five TDs), Marc Tyler (154 yards rushing, TD) and especially Ronald Johnson (59 yards receiving, three receiving touchdowns and that 89 yard punt return).

The offense certainly won't be the issue for this Trojan team, which is a good thing since they may have to work to outscore their opponents given the state of the now-porous defense.

At least that is one question that won't have to be answered.