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Kiffin talks Irish, looks back at last year

Oct 17, 2011, 10:22 PM EDT

USC Spring Game Getty Images

Lane Kiffin spent about ten minutes in total answering questions about the upcoming game against Notre Dame. Even though he did his best to keep it mostly coachspeak, a few comments he made will certainly raise some eyebrows amongst ND Nation, and likely find the way onto a bulletin board or two in the Gug.

But first the complimentary stuff.

When asked about the type of team his Trojans will face this weekend (USC is a staggering 8.5 point underdog), Kiffin thinks the Irish are a few self-inflicted mistakes away from being one of the country’s top ranked teams.

“They should be undefeated. They’re seconds away from being undefeated,” Kiffin said. “They’re in Michigan dominating that game and then it gets screwed up in the end. Very easily without the turnovers they beat South Florida. And then they’re undefeated and a top five team in the country. This is a really good team.”

Kiffin also echoed something I’ve mentioned a few times when describing what Brian Kelly has done schematically with the Irish.

“They’re coached really well. They don’t do a lot of stuff,” Kiffin said about Kelly’s squad. “They aren’t very complicated on offense and defense. They’re sort of simple in a way. But they’re really really good at it. They’re coached really well, very detailed, the players play really really hard, especially on defense.”

When a writer calls a coach’s scheme simple it makes sense. When a coach says it, it has a funny way of getting misconstrued. That said, Kiffin is making the same point I’ve tried to make throughout the first two seasons of the Kelly era, and it’s a great way for the Irish to get the most out of the athletes that Charlie Weis brought in and Kelly helped develop.

Of course for those looking to chastise Kiffin, his look back at last year’s game supplied ample opportunity, with Kiffin raising eyebrows twice when talking about the Trojans’ 20-16 loss last November. Kiffin felt like the Trojans gave the game away.

“That’s why that game was so hard,” Kiffin explained. “It had been so many years of all the players and coaches to get that streak to where it was, and then really, to just hand the game away. As we all remember, the ball’s in our hands, we’re going to walk in the end zone and win the game. And then for all those years and hard work to come down to that. It was very hard to deal with.”

Kiffin pinning that game on Ronald Johnson‘s drop just don’t seem to make sense for a head coach. Johnson — now on the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad — certainly gave the Irish a much needed gift near the end of the ballgame. But you’d think a head coach would be one of the last people to pin a rivalry game on the back of one player, especially when the Irish held the Trojans to under three yards a carry and USC committed eight penalties.

Kiffin gave essentially the same answer twice when talking about last year, so it wasn’t like he slipped in the moment. Here’s what he said after practice, when he called the game  the worst loss he’d ever been a part of.

“This one is different because of the feeling of letting so many people down,” Kiffin said about the 20-16 defeat. “So many players and coaches have been involved to maintain that streak over the years, and then for it to be right there, and so many opportunities for us to win that game. Even with a back-up quarterback and a back-up right tackle it was right there. So it was tough.”

Of course, Kiffin doesn’t mention that the Irish were short their starting quarterback Dayne Crist, one of the best tight ends in the country in Kyle Rudolph, starting wide receiver Theo Riddick, running back Armando Allen, and the heart of their defensive line in Ian Williams, not to mention Carlo Calabrese and Jamoris Slaughter.

But that’s what makes Lane Kiffin so wonderfully polarizing. In roughly ten minutes of interviews, he’ll say just enough to enrage a fanbase and set the crosshairs on him. Is it intentional? Is it some kind of Rex Ryan thing?

Either way, in a rivalry like Notre Dame-Southern Cal, it’s more than enough to add fuel to the fire.

  1. Jennifer - Oct 17, 2011 at 11:04 PM

    You nailed this one, Keith. I gotta go now. Lane’s comments have turned my stomach so much that I gotta make a run to the Toilet Bowl, which, btw, is the ONLY bowl that LAME (no typo) AND HIS TEAM will visit this season. ugh!

    • johngmack - Oct 18, 2011 at 3:25 PM

      Kiffen and his USC football team have sent us a postcard. Not very nice coming from a nine point underdog.

      • bostonjan - Oct 18, 2011 at 7:27 PM

        I felt nausea after watching that “postcard”….don’t know if I want to scream or punch something. If the USC cheerleader stabs our turf with his sword, I hope someone kicks his butt

      • tradertrik - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:38 PM

        I watched about 2 minutes of that drivel and yawned my way back to here. Is any of that video supposed to have a point? I guess, I don’t know……..

      • papadec - Oct 18, 2011 at 11:58 PM

        The NCAA had it right – usc just doesn’t get it – the arrogance just permeates the whole athletic department, and I would guess based on this video the student body as well. Kiffin & Orgeron have been part of the problem for so long that they don’t realize they are the problem.

    • papadec - Oct 19, 2011 at 12:12 AM

      To Jennifer – now there’s a side of you we hadn’t seen here before. You tell ’em!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t think “LAME” will be going to any Bowl while the head coach @ usc. I think Stanford & ND will be the nails in his usc coaching coffin. His former cohort, now @ UWash will probably add a few nails as well. The days of usc ruling the PAC, and the BCS rankings are done.

      • Jennifer - Oct 19, 2011 at 8:37 PM

        Papadec! I’ve always enjoyed your posts. You might remember Robert G and ??? guy who kept posting for a couple years about the cheating. While he was an annoying poster, I believed him. He also said their wins would be forfeited, and I was hoping he was right…(remember the Bush Push?) Also, if I’m remembering right, wasn’t it you who said last year or the year before,, that you’d love to see an ND home game? If so, and you still feel the same, re-post and let me know, as I can most probably get you tickets.

  2. tradertrik - Oct 17, 2011 at 11:20 PM

    Kiffing has shown himself to be a very unremarkable coach. I have a feeling half way through the third he’s gonna call his OC and say “I don’t wanna be the head coach anymore, Daddy!”

    • bostonjan - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:13 PM

      bring back Robinson

    • tradertrik - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:40 PM

      Sorry; that should read “Kiffin.” Hell, I was calling Rees “Reese” for about the longest, so pardon me for that one too. Go Irish!!!

  3. ndgiants11 - Oct 17, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    Great job, Keith. Particularly like your point on Kiffin as a polarizing figure. There’s just something about Kiffin that rubs me the wrong way (other than the red and yellow) . Pete Carroll was always running up and down the sidelines with his players, jumping into their arms, and always carrying that smirk on his face. Kiffin, on the other hand, seems to be soft spoken and doesn’t always appear to be enthused, but he comes across as so smug. I’ll always remember Carroll for his exuberant demeanor, but Kiffin’s laid back style just puzzles me.

  4. 9irish - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:13 AM

    College football is so cyclical…nobody ever mentions that the Irish used and abused them for about 15 straight years…tired of hearing about this USC “streak”

    Go Irish

    • tedlinko - Oct 18, 2011 at 1:14 AM

      To be specific, it was 11 straight wins from 1983 – 1993 and a 13 year unbeaten streak (83-95 w/ a tie in 1994).

      Pretty much most of the Gerry Faust and Lou Holtz eras.

  5. lordsummer - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:31 AM

    Eh. Receiver drops a key pass at the end of the game; freshman backup QB in his biggest game of the season coughs up four picks. You say potato, I say potahto. That was an ugly game last year on both sides. SC’s offense had nothing on our defense, and their defense didn’t have that much on our offense besides Tommy throwing picks. Lots of mess, lots of accidents.

    There won’t be many accidents on Saturday, just tire marks all over those SC uniforms.

    • notredamegrad - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:44 AM

      Yes! Awesome comment. When I read that Kiffin believes his team “gave it away” last year, I kept thinking, “didn’t *we* try to give it away?” It is amazing to see how many ND players were out of that game, to remember Tommy’s four turnovers, the hard slog of that whole game, Hughes driving the pile into the end zone, and to not believe it our ugliest win until Pitt this year.

      It’s awesome to feel confident that this year, ND is really the dominant force and has the chance to run all over the Trojans. This is a huge game. Can’t wait. Go Irish!

  6. bernhtp - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    Kiffin is such a piece of work. I hope we crush those bastards and Kelly gives Kiffin the Harbaugh handshake when it’s over.

    • NotreDan - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:06 AM

      Harbaugh is still the classless punk he was at Michigan, the Bears, and Stanford.

      • NotreDan - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:07 AM

        Oh… and if Kelly were to ever stoop that that level, which I guarantee he won’t, I’d have a whole different opinion on him than I do now.

      • bernhtp - Oct 18, 2011 at 2:55 PM

        Apparently some missed that this was hyperbole, not that Kiffin doesn’t deserve it, but that Kelly is too classy (and small) to do this. Kelly actually addressed the issue in his press conference today.

    • 1notredamefan - Oct 18, 2011 at 8:43 PM

      I would love to see that kind of enthusiastic handshake any-DAY especially at kiFUfen Hit em High hit em low it don’t matter JUST HIT!

  7. irish9314 - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    Cant wait for the game… Although SCs offense looked pretty good against Cal last week. And with our secondary being one of the weakest points in the game, it kind of scares me. Although if we can shake them up early, I do believe SC will start to fall apart. One other side note, I say we run the score up and beat them by 30 for ranking reasons. That would be a great day!

  8. NotreDan - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    @KA… great article as usual. I also appreciated your comments in the previous article regarding the panic in the fanbase (posters here) referred to by BK.

    Kiffin is as much a part of the problem at SC as Carroll was.

    My favorite thing about this article is that Kiffin is still so BITTER about last year. You know this comes through in his coaching, in his prep, and will in his players. The impact of such bitterness is always a confidence killer for ball teams.

    ND wins this one by at least 10.

    GO IRISH!!!

  9. goirish64 - Oct 18, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    Great article Keith, I think you are hitting the nail on the head this season in your reports about the team and the fan base.

    Yes, I also remember the 11 straight wins ND had over USC, funny how so many others, especially the media seem to forget about the dominance ND had over USC. Heaven forbid should ND get any good national attention.

    Also, as an Alum of the Buckeyes, and a former OSU band member, I love the rivalry between OSU & that school up North (of Columbus), but I believe the ND / USC rivalry is the biggest and most important in the country. I get so sick of hearing how great the OSU / UM rivalry is, maybe in the Big 10, but not in the country.

    Thanks Keith, keep up the good work, appreciate the articles, always hungry for more, and
    GO IRISH beat the Trojans, show the KILLER instinct once again.

    BK release the Horsemen!!!!!

    • papadec - Oct 19, 2011 at 2:38 AM

      Just saw espn babble about the ND/usc game this week. Needless to say they emphasized the usc streak – no mention of the ND streak, or overall record of the series match up. espn being espn. GO IRISH!!!!!!

  10. jerseyshorendfan1 - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    There was an SC tie-in to the “handshake” controversy and that was the Stanford-USC a couple years back when Harbaugh and the Cardinal went for a 2 pt conversion when they were upsetting the Trojans and ahead by like 30 pts. At the conclusion when the coaches shook hands, Carroll said “What’s your deal?” or words to that effect to Harbaugh. Well I hope Kiffin is asking BK the same thing at the end of this game and BK replies “We just stomped your ass.” 38-10 ND bank it. Go Irish!

  11. smurphdoggy29 - Oct 18, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    Through thick and thin, “whoever we put in there, he would have to step up and do the job. We knew they would be tough, they always are.”

    What an unremarkable guy Kiffin is. Can somebody point out to me what it is he has exactly done to warrant any attention to his coaching ? I am pretty pleased to know he is bitter about the loss last year. During their so called streak some of those games weren’t exactly stellar, and the people in charge of our program not the most capable to approach such a significant contest. In retrospect the Notre Dame streak contained a few games between us where each squad was highly regarded.

    His demeanor and remarks point to his character. I sense we’ll be hearing in the near future about more scandal to seep out of SoCal.

    My hope is we steam roll them, yet I refrain from enthusiastically endorsing that, we’ll win but it will be more interesting than we like. Us the “panic ridden” fan base, we love em though !

    Beat SC Beat SC Beat SC Beat SC Beat SC Beat SC Beat SC Beat SC Beat SC Beat SC Beat SC Beat SC

  12. smurphdoggy29 - Oct 18, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    Keith, any thought of doing some work on Luke Massa, Austin Collinsworth, or any of the other players who don’t get too much press right now just to keep us posted ? Or to at least get them some time in the sun ?

    Just a thought, great work as usual !

    • Jennifer - Oct 20, 2011 at 7:00 AM

      Excellent post, smurhpdoggy29. I, too, would like to hear more about Luke & Austin. They are talented, stellar student athletes of solid character and class-act guys. I’m sure they’re disappointed, yet understand the way things shake down. I hate to see them completely off the radar.

  13. mondzy805 - Oct 18, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    Fight on Trojans.

    • brendanunderscoreg - Oct 18, 2011 at 5:54 PM

      Sometimes when posting on here I hate the thumbs up/down buttons because I don’t like to get torn a new one. It hurts the ego. I’ll admit it.

      But, comments like the one above reaffirm how genius those thumbs can be.

  14. gtizzo - Oct 18, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    Nice job Keith,

    Kiffin didn’t shoot his mouth off like I would have hoped for some good bulletin board material. Face it 4 turnovers and starting 4 drives within 10 yards of midfield, even with a back up QB, USC should have beaten the Irish last season (forget about the Ronald Johnson drop, it shouldn’t have mattered). Under Carroll that game wouldn’t have been close even in the rain. Kiffin needs this win with a new AD he will be on a short rope. The Irish have the ability to put this game away in the second half and win by 14 or more points. I don’t figure Kiffin lasting much past his third season at USC, once he puts up a record of 0-3 versus the Irish he will get is walking papers and Pat Haden will soon follow.

    • bernhtp - Oct 18, 2011 at 5:07 PM

      Haden didn’t hire Kiffin. Haden was hired to clean up the mess made by his predecessor and Carroll. I expect Haden to long outlast Kiffin unless he gets disgusted with the wretched place and quits.

      • 9irish - Oct 20, 2011 at 3:39 AM

        I hope they fire Pat Haden tomorrow, because he is the best thing that has happened to that place in a long time. Classy guy….I hate him…but he is a classy guy 😉

  15. brendanunderscoreg - Oct 18, 2011 at 6:00 PM

    It’s still early in the week, and the players haven’t done their press conference, yet. But., I’m really curious as to how Rees feels about this game from a motivation-standpoint. You have to think this game killed him last year seeing as he had over a month off before he got a chance to redeem himself in the bowl game. Pitt wasn’t pretty this year, but USC last year was still his worst game in an Irish uniform. Anyone want to wager Rees plays the most efficient and sound game of the season thus far?

  16. irishfan2791 - Oct 19, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    This game is gonna be a blast!!!!! Notre Dame matches up favorably in almost all part of the game, we are going to be able to run the ball on this defense, our Offensive linemen are bigger, stronger and just as athletic as SC’s d-linemen, the holes will be there and I think Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray are you going to be running wild against the Trojans. As for the passing game the Trojans have no one who can physically match up with either Eifert or Floyd (6’6 and 6’3 respectfully) and they both weigh as much as USC linebackers tough match up alone now throw in the likes of Jones, Reddick, and cast they’re are too many weapons on this offense for it to be stopped, let alone the ability to throw Hendrix in the game that brings a whole new wrinkle.
    On defense the name of the game is “get Matt Barkley” I’m not worried about the the running game, Notre Dame has proven it can stop the (pro-style) run. #7 needs to be hit early and often, with a healthy dose Lynch, Te’o, and company. If Notre Dame can get Barkley on the ground early in the game, it only helps when they are down late and are forced to throw. The quicker and more often Barkley is on the ground the less time the secondary has to chase those SC receivers. In the end I think the Irish win BIG! GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!

  17. lsk82mom - Oct 19, 2011 at 3:20 PM

    Kiffin likened the SC defense to that of the ’85 Bears!
    I’m an 82 ND grad, and that defense was straight off
    the field at ND! Dave Duerson and company, may God
    give him rest.

    • Jennifer - Oct 19, 2011 at 8:42 PM

      Amen to that. And how incredible that even in dying, he made sure autopsy would be done re: head injuries in football. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the courage that took at one’s darkest moment in life. God bless him and his family.

  18. papadec - Oct 19, 2011 at 11:15 PM

    To Jennifer – I’m glad you took my comment for the jesting it was. Thank you for your kind words regarding my posts. My brother is a class of ’69 Alum. I was able to visit him for a game, I think in 1968. We’ve had opportunities over the years to go to another game – but it never quite worked out. Where did the time go? Anyway, we had a mini family re-union, this year, at the Air Force game. He and his eldest son, my son & I. Both boys are old enough to drink legally, and they sure did. We had a great time before, during and after the game. Thank you for your ticket assistance offer – but, tickets have never been a problem. Getting our schedules in sync has been the problem. One thing you, or someone else, might help us with though – we’d like to visit Knute’s grave site to pay homage, the next time we’re on campus. Thanks, and looking forward to more of the “new side” comments. PapaD.

    • Jennifer - Oct 20, 2011 at 8:02 AM

      Papadec ~ Glad to hear you were at the Air Force game. I was there too, and what a day!! Gorgeous weather, amazing Stealth flyover, and a fast, solid game. You mentioned Knute Rockne, and here’s an interesting tid-bit: my “much older sister” (she wouldn’t like me saying that) went to her high school Senior Prom with Knute Rockne’s Grandson, (also Knute Rockne!) Lots of ND history in our family. My Great-Great Grandfather, a carpenter, immigrated to South Bend from England to the States. Fr. Sorin hired him to guild the Dome, and they became great friends. In fact, Fr. Sorin’s influence was so profound that my Grandparents converted to Catholicism, and had six children, one who even became a nun! Soon, his brothers also immigrated to the States as well. And catch this….Fr. Sorin deeded the entire square block of St. Peter street, (South of the main entrance.) He had it subdivided it to 8 plots which he sold to them each a lot for $1 apiece. (We still have the signed deed!) They went on to build “Six kids, Six houses!,” and kept the remaining two lots for a ball field, (a church is there now.) GO IRISH!

      • papadec - Oct 20, 2011 at 1:52 PM

        WOW! That explains why you know so much about ND, and especially ND football. Thank you for sharing.

    • lsk82mom - Oct 20, 2011 at 9:26 AM

      Yeah, I think he was trying to do the right thing to the end.

  19. NDfan1224 - Oct 20, 2011 at 9:56 AM


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