USC's Future, Lane Kiffin's Closet, and Dillon Baxter's Beef
We all get the fact that USC as a collective team gets no style points for their opening victory over the underwhelming presence of Minnesota.
We also get the idea that USC is looking at a possible epidemic of losses soon coming if some measures are not taken to assuage the problems.
The question is, “Do the coaches get it?"
I have gone on record to state that I have confidence in the Lane Kiffin administration. Now, I will say that USC fans, of which I obviously am, have cause to worry.
Bear in mind that these reasons have little to do with the performance of the players. The blame, here, is placed on the management and discretion of the coaching staff, particularly the commander in chief, Lane Kiffin.
Here are three reasons why Trojan faithful should be concerned about Lane Kiffin’s leadership potential.
Dillon Baxter’s Right to Complain
The Baxter family found themselves in Lane Kiffin’s office on Sunday regarding Dynamic Dillon’s playing time. If you’re thinking this is some primadonna’s tantrum over why he wasn’t knighted the Trojan tailback, you’re mistaken.
Let the record show that the Baxter Bunch was 100% right in taking up a lot of Kiffin’s time on Sunday.
During the camp and scrimmages, Dillon Baxter performed as well if not better than DJ Morgan and Curtis McNeal. For example: Following the August 14th scrimmage, D-Bax had 101 yards on 16 carries against the starting USC defense. Morgan was 8-44 and McNeal 3-14.
After another scrimmage, the stats went as such: D.J. Morgan 12-44, Dillon Baxter 10-31 and Curtis McNeal 2-20. Sure, this does not bode well for Baxter, but it also suggests that the other backs failed to catch up to Baxter’s prior performance presence.
When transposing these numbers next to Baxter’s game experience from last year, it should be noted that, in the absence of Marc Tyler, D-Bax is the man at tailback. The starting running back slot should have been Dillon's to lose at the end of camp, since none of the backs, even by Kiffin’s own words, “failed to separate themselves from the other guys.” That means you go with experience and potential.
Experience and potential suggest you go with Baxter, who a) has some prime time experience from last year and b) is the only 5-star recruit next to Tyler and c) is not an academic (McNeal) or physical (Morgan's knee) casualty.
Speaking of casualties, if Lane wants to hold D-Bax’s freshman faux paux against him, then he ought to hold McNeal’s scholastic self-sabotage against him as well. Heck, why stop at that? Hold Morgan’s knees in contempt as well, since injuries can hurt the team’s chemistry too.
In light of Kiffin’s stonewalling of Baxter, let’s not forget that at the outset of the 2010 season, Kiffin also said that “Baxter is probably the most talented player we have.”
All this to say that if Baxter is the tailback, the running game goes much better on Saturday and the team, with a more solid running game, can produce better on offense.
How is SC’s future hinged on the Baxter decision?
Kiffin is showing that he is not a good manager of the talent bestowed upon him.
The running back by committee thing has never gone well. Hasn’t anyone called Head Coach at Southern Cal figured that out? The last time SC had a solid running approach was when Reggie Bush (yes, no matter what the ridiculous NCAA says, Bush was a Trojan and a damned good one. BTW: He was also the rightful Heisman winner. I’m pretty sure Vince Young doesn’t want some consolation offering of the trophy. Aren’t you?) was THE running back.
Now, I am not saying that anyone else has been as good as Bush. But neither has USC been left in want. Might I suggest that even under the Carroll regime, USC had a pretty similar prospect to Reggie Bush in one named Joe McKnight. He was 6’0” 195 pounds and had 4.4 speed. Even when splitting playing time at the position, McKnight had over 1,000 yards rushing his junior season. McKnight should have been the main man at tailback, period.
Earth to coaches: There is a reason guys come in at 5-stars, for the most part. And if they are working hard, as Baxter is and has been this year, even by Lane’s admission, they usually perform well for you and help you win. But playing mind games with these kids, telling them, “How much you play is up to you, not us as coaches,” in light of the fact that they have done all they could to prove themselves to you statistically and regarding their character, would even daunt a Heisman winner like Marc Ingram, if he had been subjected to such nonsense.
Speaking of Ingram, let’s look at ‘Bama as a case in point.
Richardson, this year’s guy at tailback, sat behind Marc Ingram last year. Okay, he got some reps in, but all knew that Ingram was the man. Now, as the hierarchy goes, it’s Richardson’s turn.
At USC, this year should have been Marc Tyler’s, but he blew that for now. That’s a given. So, Baxter stepped up to the challenge to become the heir apparent. He knew he was the prince and it was his time to reign. Instead, Kiffin nominates someone who is still a proletariat, not even adopted into the bloodline yet, in Morgan and McNeal and even freshman Carlisle (what!).
If the head coach cannot manage the easy decisions of the team without causing avoidable conflict, then he can get all the 5-stars he could ever want and still not have a winning corp.
Once future prospects understand that Kiffin is a great recruiter but a horrible manager of talent (I mean, come on, it took him an entire year to figure out that Devon Kennard should have been a defensive end and not a middle linebacker, all when you had a 5-star MLB in Chris Gallippo playing second string to Devon), they will stop signing with the cardinal and gold on signing day.
Once top recruits stop playing for USC, the late nineties and early two thousand Trojans will start taking the field again. Those were the days when UCLA was the better team in L.A. Remember those? Yikes!
Kiffin has the opportunity to make amends, but he is not going to do it by playing Marquise Lee over Brandon Carswell and Brice Butler, experienced and just-as-capable and even-more-proven players. Heck, Kyle Prater is healthy and he is, by far, the more exceptional receiver.
Lee, to his credit, did his job on Saturday, but that job could have been done by any of the veterans, even previous redshirts such as Kyle Prater as well.
This progression of playing veterans is good for the team. Healthy. Natural.
The only time a freshman should come in and start is if they are Robert Woods types, or Marcus Lattimore specimens at the other USC—South Carolina.
Otherwise, everyone—parents, players and potential recruits—understands the process and can respect that. A freshman can understand that, though they have a shot to play, unless they are fantastically exceptional, they are going to have to decide to either redshirt or waste a year getting scant minutes.
This is the way at every successful university. Not even Tim Tebow was the outright starter his freshman year. He had to sit behind Chris Leak and play in only certain roles.
USC had better hope that Kiffin realizes what all the other greats have already.