Last spring, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim drafted and signed Jake Locker, a center fielder, to a professional baseball contract.
Last night, Locker, who is also a quarterback, led his Washington Huskies to a narrow 32-31 win over the USC Trojans.
After the loss, Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin was asked if he thought Locker would do better as a pro baseball player or as an NFL quarterback.
“The way he played tonight, he looked like a No. 1 draft choice,” Kiffin responded.
Very complimentary, coach, but not quite correct. Actually, it was the way the USC defense played that made Locker look like a No. 1 draft choice.
Although Locker amassed 420 total yards, 310 through the air and 110 running past or over lunging Trojan defenders, he had more than his share of blunders.
In the second quarter, he raced 54 yards down the left sideline, leaving Trojans sprawled on the Coliseum turf, only to have Shareece Wright punch the ball from behind at the one yard line.
The ball sailed over the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback.
On four other occasions, Locker missed wide open receivers. Two of them would have resulted in touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, he fumbled again when sacked. Fortunately for Washington, a Husky recovered.
Two weeks before, Locker looked more like an NFL waiver than a top draft pick. Against the stout Division One defense put up by the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Locker only managed 71 yards passing (4/20) and 59 yards rushing with just one TD and two interceptions.
Rather than comment on Locker’s draft prospects, Coach Kiffin should be concerned that, the way his Trojans played on defense last night, they will have no early round draft picks.
What’s even worse, the Trojans don’t have a leader on defense...or offense for that matter.
They have a few playmakers, but no leaders. They need strong, get-in-your-face, no bones personalities who aren’t out to make friends but to hold their teammates accountable on both sides of the ball.
They demand that everyone around them plays with intensity and determination. If a player cannot accept that, then he is out of there.
Matt Barkley is a good quarterback but he is not that kind of leader. He needs to work on being clutch before he can become a take-charge guy like Jake Locker.
It was Allen Bradford’s game last night, the best of his career. However, Kiffin dialed Barkley’s number on the last two drives after Bradford had twice put the Trojans in scoring position.
Barkley said that he has the confidence to make those throws, but he just didn’t make them. Why not?
Confident or not, Barkley tensed up on jittery legs and fired too hard. A real leader doesn’t tense up. If he is truly confident, he will remain calm and come through in the clutch.
That isn’t a knock on Barkley. It simply means that he is not there yet. Hopefully, he will be someday, maybe even this year.
And Bradford? He sounded disappointed that Kiffin didn’t call his number to finish off the Huskies when they had the chance. Instead, Barkley and place kicker Joe Houston got the call, and both failed.
But a leader isn’t afraid to let the coach know that he and his offensive line can get the job done. It’s not dissension to disagree with a coach’s call; it’s confidence.
Kris O’Dowd seemed to echo Bradford’s sentiments. But he needs to be convincing on the field and show the coaches that his offensive line and Bradford can finish the job.
The same is true with Shareece Wright on defense. But if he is to lead, he must do it convincingly.
The Trojans also need a leader on the sideline. Lane Kiffin is a very good coach and a firm disciplinarian, but he is not a good leader.
A good leader needs to temper discipline with enthusiasm. He cannot be so strict that his players are afraid to question some of his decisions.
When asked about how he will motivate the team after the loss to Washington, Kiffin replied, “We’ll be fine. We’ll go back to work.”
Yes, they will go back to work. But, no, they won’t be fine. The enthusiasm and intensity that this team needs to exude can only filter down from the top.
If Coach Kiffin is to be that leader, he needs to loosen up and pat his guys on the back when they make a good play. He must show his enthusiasm when they put forth good effort. Above all, he needs to openly encourage each one of them.
On the other hand, when they put out a terrible effort, he needs to show them that he is good and mad, not just disappointed.
Players cannot help but reflect the attitude of their coach. If he is somber and comes off as subdued, then guess what?
The players will lack intensity and focus.
By refusing to call a time out because he thought it would be useless since his defense was spent, Coach Kiffin showed his own immaturity. He may know a great deal about football, but he has a lot to learn about human nature.
Call the time out and look every man on that defense right in the eye. Encourage them to leave nothing on the field. Tell them how proud you are that they have hung in there and ask them to give that little bit extra.
If Coach Kiffin had looked across to the other sideline, he would have seen what enthusiasm and strong encouragement can do.
More than likely calling time out would not have made a difference last night, but down the line that show of confidence and faith in them would have paid huge dividends.
So, stop trying to defend a defenseless position. You were wrong, Coach Kiffin. Admit it and grow up. Otherwise, you just come off sounding like an idiot.
And where was the ferocity? After a tough loss, players will brood and hang their heads unless the guy at the top shows that he is fighting mad about his mistakes as well as theirs.
You had better believe that the Stanford Cardinal and Jim Harbaugh, their head coach, are fighting mad after their loss at Oregon, and they will be ready to take out their anger on the Trojans next Saturday.
Do you for one second think the Trojans will be mad and incensed enough to fight back?
And I don’t believe this is Lane Kiffin’s dream job, either. It can’t be. A dream job is not work. It’s not drudgery. It’s the total opposite. You are enthused. You are energetic.
You are encouraging to everyone around you. Yes, even with sanctions staring you in the face.
If that is not Lane Kiffin’s personality, then he should do what he did at Tennessee: fake it.
The last thing the Trojans need right now is for Lane Kiffin to be somber and exude nothing but disappointment. Even when he is positive, he often sounds subdued, even passive.
Playing like champions and playing with pride and confidence make wonderful mantras. But in the end, it is nothing more than lip service.
Pride and confidence are qualities that you feel inside. They are a very real part of your character, and those qualities must filter down from the top.
Anger can also be a very valuable tool if it is aimed at your own shortcomings rather than at others. It can charge you with energy.
But disappointment and glumness are useless. They will drain your energy and the energy of those around you.
Maybe I am completely out of line with these thoughts. If so, I apologize to Coach Kiffin and his players.
But after the sloppiness and the inability to finish that we saw at the Coliseum last night, I don’t want to hear: “We’ll be fine. We’ll go back to work.”