EL PASO, Texas -- High winds are expected during Monday’s Hyundai Sun Bowl game, with 20- to 30-mile-per-hour gusts currently projected for the El Paso area and even higher ones possible at the high-elevation Sun Bowl.
USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said the winds would affect his team more than Georgia Tech's, as the Yellow Jackets traditionally throw the ball only sparingly. He’s emphasized the issue to quarterback Max Wittek in recent days and will make sure Wittek warms up with it in mind on Monday.
But, Kiffin said, he hasn’t yet adjusted his game plan because of the wind.
“It’d have to depend on how bad [the winds] are,” he said. “And we won’t know that until game time.”
Tech quarterback Tevin Washington threw the ball only 128 times this season, an average of fewer than 10 attempts per game. USC’s Matt Barkley threw 387 times in 11 starts this season, and Wittek attempted 23 throws in his lone start.
“We probably won’t throw it a lot,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson quipped at his Sunday news conference. “I hope it doesn’t affect the pitches.”
Taking the Sun Bowl seriously
USC’s players will not be underestimating the 6-7 Yellow Jackets in Sun Bowl, according to their coach.
Not after the Trojans struggled through a 7-5 season with losses in four of their final five games, including back-to-back horrid defensive performances against spread teams Arizona and Oregon.
“I think sometimes that would be an issue, if we were sitting here at 11-1 or something,” Kiffin said. “But the way we played down the stretch -- how many things we need to improve on -- that won’t be an issue in this case.”
USC did beat the five teams it played this season who entered the game with a .500 or worse record.
Players learn a little lesson
In discussing how his players have learned to appreciate the Sun Bowl and the city of El Paso after some early missteps, Kiffin called back to a phone conversation he had with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly upon the Trojans’ bowl selection earlier this month.
Kelly’s Irish beat Miami in the game during his first season in South Bend, and he told Kiffin two years later that the Irish players loved the hospitality they received from bowl workers and local volunteers in El Paso.
Kiffin said Sunday that Kelly was right.
“They’re everywhere,” he said of bowl officials. “I felt that.”
They’re both among the players who have since sent letters to the bowl staff expressing their gratitude for the events of their first four days in El Paso.
Among the activities for both teams since their Dec. 26 arrival have been a military base visit and gun demonstration, local dinners with live music and hypnotism and karaoke events.
“The concern always with bowl games is the events: Are there too many, and do the players not want to go?” Kiffin said. “Because, initially, they don’t. The first thing they want to do is just sit around.
“But once they’ve gone to these events, they’ve really had a blast at them.”
Father and son’s last hurrah
Kiffin said he had not “put anything into” the thought that Monday’s game will be his final time coaching with his father, Monte, at USC.
The elder Kiffin resigned from his post as the Trojans’ de facto defensive coordinator last month following a disappointing defensive season but is staying with the team through the Sun Bowl.
The head coach said the game plan hasn’t been any different, even with that in mind. The two have spent the past four seasons in charge of the offense and defense at Tennessee and then USC.
“It’s not like we’ve been together for 15 years or something like that,” Lane Kiffin said. “We’ve been apart before.”
Final notes: USC receiver Robert Woods told reporters he’ll announce his decision immediately following Monday’s game about whether or not to leave for the NFL. Woods, a 20-year-old junior, reportedly received a second-round grade from the NFL on his evaluation. ... Also expected to soon announce a decision is Trojan cornerback Nickell Robey, who said he’d return to school unless he received a first- or second-round grade. ... USC’s 2012 opponents are 3-2 in bowl games thus far, with wins by Arizona State, Arizona and Syracuse and losses from Washington and UCLA. Three more teams will play over the next 10 days: Stanford, Oregon and Notre Dame. ... Johnson said he had recently been told that the Trojans had “13 or 14” next-level players starting for them. “There’s no question that they’re very talented,” he said.