USC Football 2011: Don't Go for 2, Lane Kiffin

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USC Football 2011: Don't Go for 2, Lane Kiffin
Harry How/Getty Images
QB Matt Barkley and Coach Lane Kiffin discuss play call

The USC Trojans' disappointing 19-17 win over Minnesota last Saturday resulted in much criticism and concern from the fans and media. 

Things went very well in the first half and equally bad in the second half for a Trojan team, favored by 24 points, playing at home.

Given the more serious issues that need to be addressed to beat a tough Utah Utes team on Sept. 10, it is amusing that the two-point conversion attempt continues to be one of the most talked about controversies.

USC was 5-of-9 in two-point conversion attempts in 2010, which resulted in more points than kicking.

However, Lane Kiffin is second-guessed by the media constantly and any missteps are spotlighted ad nauseum. He has been criticized for being too conservative, but the more aggressive two-point conversion gets the boo-birds to start a chorus.

Is this criticism about the two-point conversions deserved? And why are so many fans upset about it?

Of course, USC would have liked the additional two points from kicking extra points when the score was 19-17 in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately, USC did not have Marc Tyler, the best backfield option for the two-point conversion, for the Minnesota game. He may have scored when Rhett Ellison came up a half of a yard short. The other two-point attempt was missed on Barkley’s only bad pass of the day.

Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill did not go for two-point conversions which could have tied the game

Yet no one brings up that Minnesota coach Jerry Kill didn’t go for two after scoring a TD following the Trojan turnover with the score 19-9. A two-point conversion on this play and another after the next TD would have tied the game.

There certainly are football pros and cons for the two-point conversion, and there is also the emotional reaction.

Let’s start with the emotions.

Some fans feel that it is arrogant of USC to go for two after a TD, especially when heavily favored. It could fire up the other team. A miss also motivates their defense.

Heck, maybe it would be better not to score the TD because it might offend the opponent's defense.

Missing the two points could lose the momentum gained by the TD. Of course, scoring the two points won't add to the momentum.

Fans get upset and boo the coach, which doesn’t help a home-field advantage. That has to make the Trojan football players feel pretty good about their fans support.

The football reasons require an understanding of the risk and reward.

Neon Tommy’s senior sports editor, James Santelli, presents a detailed and compelling analysis of the good football reasons that “consistently going for two will help USC to win football games.” He shows that USC has a 55-percent success rate in the Kiffin era when you combine two-point conversion attempts and goal-to-goal situations inside the 5-yard line.

That results in a 1.1 point value, whereas kicking has less than a one point value, with a 97.5-percent success rate (equivalent to a 48.5-percent two-point success rate).

Santelli adds:

For decades, football coaches have let critical fans and newspaper columnists keep them from thinking outside the box to help their team. They've played it safe and done what is expected. Nobody blames the coach who sends out his kicking team for the extra point. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, nothing booed.

Of course, when most coaches go for two the situation is expected and the defense is prepared. USC is trying to take advantage of an unprepared defense. However, the more often it is attempted, the less the surprise.

On the other hand, the Trojans may be more successful in two-point conversions when the game is on the line. This season expects to have close games, so this could be important in winning (or losing) games.

A USC fan told me that the best reason to kick the extra point is because the "placekicker needs to exercise his legs and get his timing down." That is a good one. Might as well bypass those TDs and just go for the FGs. Then there is no issue with extra points.

The hiring of John Baxter as the special teams coach has been an unqualified success. USC blocked yet another field goal Saturday and its special teams have become a true asset.

Baxter is the driving force behind the two-point conversion strategy. He told LA Times' Gary Klein last season, “It's being aggressive. It's pushing the pace, pushing the envelope and forcing our opponents to prepare for the Trojans in a multifaceted way. Even if they don't work, they work."

“It’s a special teams scenario,” Kiffin explained to the Daily Trojan when asked about the rationale for opting out of the more conventional extra-point attempt. “We were 50 percent last year. If you get a certain look where you have an advantage, it’s worth a look.”

However, Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register reported that Kiffin said jokingly, “Ask Baxter. You would think with all the players you have at USC, you could design plays that could make it one out of two times.”

USC has the players to convert more than 48.5 percent of their two-point conversions. However, the criteria that Barkley uses for when they are attempted needs to be reviewed and carefully considered by the coaching staff.

You can bet they are doing that. The coaches know a lot more about this team than the media or the fans. Those who know Baxter have good reason to believe in his special teams strategy.

In the meantime, some fans will continue to second-guess the two-point conversions. That certainly is their right as fans. And they may continue to show their support for the coaches and the team by booing the Trojans at games. Let's hope not.

Others are more concerned about how the USC offensive line stacks up against the Utah defensive front seven.

P.S. Oregon's Chip Kelly often goes for two early in games. His explanation is that they want to score as many points as possible and he would never bypass an opportunity for an extra point. Of course, he doesn't get the same criticism as Kiffin has received.

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