USC head coach Lane Kiffin was saying everything possible to manage expectations in the face of an ugly 43-22 loss, but doing so in a way that only floundering Texas governor and former Texas A&M yell leader Rick Perry might have understood.
Kiffin espoused the youth of the team, pointed out the eight Trojans making their first career road start. He pointed to the rally the team made in the third quarter to retake the lead.
It was on the verge of being downright bizarre, considering this was the same Kiffin that was downright apoplectic after closer than expected wins over Hawaii and Virginia last season to begin his tenure.
He was seemingly trying to position the loss to the talented but flawed Sun Devils as a win. Unfortunately, no one was buying it, not the media in attendance and certainly not USC fans growing increasingly frustrated with Kiffin.
Youth wasn't a problem under Pete Carroll. In fact it was a badge of honor that a freshman could come in straight from high school and carve out a starring role.
Youth didn't stop the offense from amassing 402 yards of total offense, averaging 6.1 yards per play, or reaching the red zone six times. Youth didn't stop redshirt freshman linebacker Dion Bailey from leading the defense with 10 tackles, a pass breakup and its only sacks. Youth didn't stop kicker Andre Heidari from making all three of his field goals.
If anything, it was the veterans that didn't step up in the first road game. Redshirt senior running back Marc Tyler lost a critical fumble. Junior safety T.J. McDonald was penalized three times for personal fouls and struggled to neutralize Arizona State's quick passing game. Third-year starting quarterback Matt Barkley held the ball too long as USC was in position to retake the lead early in the fourth quarter and was strip sacked leading to a Sun Devils touchdown. He also threw a ball up for grabs on the very next play, resulting in a pick-six that put the game away.
Those aren't players a couple of months removed from high school or experiencing the road for the first time. Those are the leaders that Kiffin himself said last week would have to carry the team in a hostile environment.
Those aren't talking points, that's a fact.
But with this loss, the Trojans are in danger of seeing their season spiral out of control, especially with a loss this week to the stumbling Wildcats. There are still trips to Notre Dame and Oregon, visits to the Coliseum by Heisman Trophy frontrunner Andrew Luck and Stanford and surprising Washington.
Last year's 8-5 record could easily become 6-6 this year. And 2012, which on paper shapes up as Kiffin's best team yet, could lose Barkley, McDonald, left tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry to the NFL.
So why not try and manage expectations? Because it can't and more importantly won't work. The remarkable heights of Carroll were historic and ultimately unsustainable and fans know that, but getting smacked around in Tempe isn't something they will tolerate, bowl ban, scholarship reductions and probation be damned.
Kiffin has already been blown out more times in 17 games than Carroll was in nine seasons.
Sometimes the only way to meet expectations to actually deliver on them, not by lowering the bar or claiming a moral victory.
Kiffin has to start doing that this week with a win. Otherwise he might soon be reduced to one of those fringe candidates standing on the edge of a presidential primary debate.