Kiffin also completely took the game away from his former Heisman candidate Marqise Lee, who was targeted only on mostly predictable bubble screens that went nowhere, as he caught seven balls for only 27 yards. Forget Lee’s running mate Nelson Agholor, who didn’t even have a catch.
When the quarterbacks were finally challenged to make a big pass, they were totally unprepared. At the end of the first half, Kessler threw the ball directly to the Cougars’ Damante Horton, who returned it 70 yards for a touchdown. At the end of the game, in the Trojans’ last-gasp drive, Wittek was also intercepted by Horton.
It added up to a night of ringing hostility that occasionally seemed to distract the players, but apparently never bothered their coach.
"You can’t worry about that, it is what it is," Kiffin said of the boos. "I think I heard those before the game started, in warmups, I’m getting used to it."
But should his players, college kids who really aren’t the target of the boos, have to get used to it?
"We’re getting used to playing on the road," Kiffin said with an odd, tiny grin.
It is Haden’s job to protect the interest of the players he always refers to as "student athletes." Right now, it seems like those players, including innocent members of the effective Trojans defense, are being held up to ridicule by an offensive system that doesn’t give them much of a chance.
Kiffin acknowledged Saturday that his offense was unprepared for the Cougars defense and that he didn’t trust his players enough to throw downfield.
"We obviously weren’t prepared well enough on offense," he said, adding, "It just didn’t seem in our best interest to put that quarterback back there and let him get hit and let balls get tipped and turn the ball over."
He even cited rusty Kessler’s interception as justification for not throwing the ball.
"We do go to passing, and we give them seven points," Kiffin said.
The evening began with its only bit of inspiration, as former USC great Marcus Allen led the team onto the field before the opening kickoff. But, fittingly, he ran so hard and fast, he outran everyone to midfield, at which point he stopped and summoned them to catch up.
This Trojan team isn’t even in sight of the great Trojan tradition, and it’s fading faster by the week.