Notebook: USC falls to Washington State

USC fell to 1-1 on the season Saturday night after suffering a 10-7 loss to Washington State. USC head coach Lane Kiffin played both quarterbacks while listening to fans chant "Fire Kiffin"...

USC loses to Washington State
Just in case you thought you misread, here's the headline again: USC loses to Washington State.

Saturday night in their Pac-12 Conference opener, in front of over 70,000 fans the Trojans fell 10-7 to a team they haven't lost to in seven straight meetings, since 2000.

"Obviously it's a disappointing day for USC football," USC head coach Lane Kiffin admitted after the game.

Kiffin released his two-quarterback system on the Cougars, Cody Kessler starting, Max Wittek taking over at the half.

For the second straight week, USC's offense looked out of sync, out of sorts, and they were unable to utilize their two biggest weapons – Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor.

The Trojans were held to just 193 total yards on offense – a mark so low it's been unseen by USC since 1998 when Florida State held them to just 189.

"It was a very disappointing day in the passing game," Kiffin said. "I've never seen stats as bad as we did today."

At least he hasn't seen them on offense while at USC. A year ago, the Trojans did allow record numbers on defense.

Kessler and Wittek combined to complete just 11 passes for a total of 54 yards. Another low for the Trojans – the fewest passing yards seen by a USC team since that same 1998 game at FSU.

Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, finished the game with seven catches for a mere 27 yards. Agholor, who started opposite Lee, had zero receptions when the game ended.

The longest passing play was an eight-yard toss from Kessler to tight end Xavier Grimble, his lone catch of the night.

"There was a feeling during the game that our defense was playing very well and Washington State was turnover prone," Kiffin explained. "The plan was if we were able to hold up on defense to make sure we didn't screw up on offense."

The Trojans "screwed up" twice with the two interceptions and by failing to find the end zone after Kessler's second quarter touchdown.

Fire Kiffin
Not my words, but those of the USC fans.

At first, one had to strain to hear them. By the end of the game, the chant was nearly a deafening roar.

The boos started from Trojan fans in the first half when Kiffin opted for a lateral pass on third down. They came again when he attempted to run the ball on the next series' third and long.

By the time Kiffin ran into the tunnel at the half, the boos were accompanied by a chant -- "Fire Kiffin" echoed through the Coliseum stands.

The hostility didn't seem to be at all directed toward USC players. It was directed toward their playcaller. In fact, the boos subsided when Washington State players entered the tunnel at the half, only to roar when Kiffin followed in behind them.

Before the clock hit zero with a scoreboard reading WSU 10 USC 7, it was absolutely unmistakable the remaining fans in the Coliseum chanting in unison, "FIRE KIFFIN… FIRE KIFFIN".

He heard it. So did his players.

"I'm getting used to it," Kiffin said after the game when asked how the crowd affected him. "You really can't worry about that… I think I heard that before the game during warmups."

Perhaps the only people who didn't here the chant and boos were the fans who already decided they'd seen enough around the eight minute mark of the fourth quarter – with the ballgame tied at 7 – fans clad in cardinal and gold were streaming up and down the stairwells of the Coliseum. Yes, a tied game and USC fans were headed for the exits. <> Before the game clock even read zero, USC players were sprinting off the field, some cursing – others throwing helmets into the ground, toward their tunnel.

The quarterback plan
At this point, Kiffin seemingly needs a new one.

Kessler said after the game the "plan the whole time" was for him to start the first half and for Wittek to start the second half.

The head coach stuck to his plan.

Kiffin has remained adamant that he has two quarterbacks he's confident in. He's also remained steadfast that he will do anything to protect the position from any type of scrutiny.

After lackluster performances by both quarterbacks in their first two games, is it time for Kiffin to agree with the old saying – if you have two quarterbacks you don't have a quarterback?

Or is it time for him to decide he does have one and to stick with that player through an entire practice and game?

Kessler finished just 8-of-13 for 41 yards and an interception through the first half. He rushed four yards for the Trojans lone touchdown.

Wittek was just 3-of-8 in his half of play. Like Kessler, he too threw an interception.

"The plan was if we were able to hold up on defense to make sure we didn't screw up on offense," Kiffin said. "It's easy to say we should have thrown later."

Madden is the man
If neither quarterback is getting the job done, why not eliminate them both?

That's virtually what Kiffin did when he opted on two different occasions to run tailback Tre Madden in the wildcat.

Madden picked up a first down out of the wildcat on fourth and one in the second quarter, allowing the drive to continue which eventually resulted in Kessler's touchdown.

The redshirt sophomore carried the ball 32 times for 156 yards.

"I thought [he] had a great game," Kiffin said. "In a game without many highlights, I'm very proud of the way Tre played."

Near perfection on defense not enough
USC's defense is unrecognizable from a season ago, but it still isn't enough.

"I'm very proud of the defense today," Kiffin said.

Imagine this, the USC defense held Washington State to just three points – yes, one field goal through four quarters of play. The Cougars only touchdown came when they intercepted Kessler and ran it back for six.

Despite the near shutout, it wasn't enough to secure the win. A year ago, it would've been enough and more.

But what a difference, as USC fans have come to know, a year can make.

Safety Dion Bailey tallied ten tackles and an interception. Cornerback Torin Harris made arguably the best play of his career when he intercepted WSU quarterback Connor Halliday in the endzone in the first quarter, saving a Cougar touchdown. The defensive line sacked Halliday four times. Defensive end George Uko forced a fumble recovered by outside linebacker Devon Kennard.

What more could you want out of your defense? Most likely, not much.

What they needed though, was a touchdown.

Special teams fall apart
Just a week ago, USC kicker Andre Heidari hit a 52-yard field goal at Hawaii.

It was the fourth longest field goal in Trojan history.

But on Saturday night Heideri reverted to the same kicker who showed inconsistencies just a season ago.

He missed two field goal attempts in the third quarter; the first blocked by the Cougars, the second sailing wide of the upright.

"We have to execute on special teams," Kiffin said. "They made their field goal and we missed our two."

Injury report:
Cornerback Anthony Brown went down with an apparent left knee injury in the Trojans season opening win at Hawaii, he was in the student section Saturday night wearing sweatpants, unavailable to play. He was joined by tailback D.J. Morgan who has been unavailable since fall camp. Silas Redd was also unavailable for Saturday night's game against WSU. Redd was in Pensacola (Fla.) when USC was in Hawaii to have a procedure done by Dr. James Andrews on his knee. Kiffin said "He hopes so" when asked if Redd would be available against WSU earlier in the week. No word on when Redd will be good to go, but it doesn't appear to be soon. Greg Townsend and J.R. Tavai were also unavailable to play in Saturday's game.

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