With just a week to prepare for the nation's best defense, USC's backup quarterback Max Wittek played pretty darn well. His performance was encouraging in a 22-13 loss to No. 1 Notre Dame on Nov. 24.
With over a month of preparation for the Sun Bowl, against a Georgia Tech squad that gave up 30 points per game and is the only bowl team with a losing record, Wittek played terribly. He looked lost and overmatched. With additional preparation time and practice reps, he regressed.
That should fall on USC's quarterback's coach.
Wittek wasn't helped by the Trojans play-calling. USC, laden with future NFL players on offense, gained just 205 total yards against a poor-to-middling defense that yielded 510 yards in an 21-point loss to Middle Tennessee State.
That should fall on USC's play caller.
Both are named Lane Kiffin.
The Pac-12 blog doesn't believe Lane Kiffin should be fired after his team produced a season that is, by a handful of objective as well as emotional measures, the most disappointing in college football history, though there are many USC fans who do. And not just the crazy ones.
But USC athletic director Pat Haden needs to make clear to Kiffin a significant part of the problem with the Trojans in 2012 is Kiffin's coaching. He needs Kiffin to agree with him, because that's the only way to receive reassurance that Kiffin isn't deluded.
Haden then needs to insist Kiffin hire an offensive coordinator who also coaches QBs and calls plays.
If Kiffin argues against that, Haden, a former NFL and USC QB who was also a Rhodes Scholar, needs to pop in a tape of the Sun Bowl and ask Kiffin to defend the performance.
Haden could point to poorly designed plays. He could point to feckless execution. He could point to USC repeatedly running exactly the wrong play into the strength off the Yellow Jackets defense.
There was something so shockingly lacking in USC's offensive performance, I've got $5 bill that says there were multiple times in the huddle when players expressed dismay over the play they were about to run.
Kiffin already will be hiring a new defensive coordinator, as his father, Monte Kiffin, has elected to step aside. Better coordination is the most obvious thing USC needs; it's the most obvious way for the Trojans quality of play to catch up to its superior but presently unharnessed talent.
But it's more than Xs and Os. Kiffin needs to be more focused on his team than on that Denny's menu (yes, I stole that joke from a reader) he buries his nose in during games. He needs to pay more attention to his players' focus, motivation, emotions and discipline. For example, he needs them to be more afraid of him, which means they would be less likely to tweet insulting things about the gracious town of El Paso which showed a failed team hospitality.
Why not just fire Kiffin? Because he was a good coach in 2011. Because he's a great recruiter. Because he's still got potential. And because there really is an obvious path to follow that could quickly solve the Trojans problems.
The hippocratic oath is something coaches share with doctors: "First, do no harm." That means, at the very least, don't make your team worse than it is.
Kiffin did that by calling plays this year.