Kiffin talks Irish, looks back at last year

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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.