Lane Kiffin has come to terms with the fact that no one wants to talk about the high points of Thursday's win over Hawaii.
They don't want to discuss that his Trojans traveled to an awkward time zone and won by 17 points; or that his remodeled, remolded defense played its first game in the new scheme and tallied four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, eight tackles for a loss and seven sacks.
After all, it's USC -- where good enough is hardly ever good enough, and criticisms come easier than kudos. Whatever criticisms the media has of Kiffin, and it’s usually not shy about sharing them, Kiffin and USC are 1-0. Three other Pac-12 teams would love to be in that position -- one of which was previously ranked. In Kiffin’s mind, the win is all that matters.
And he’s right. Agree or disagree with the way Kiffin captains his ship, calls his plays or manages his personnel, he’s right. It wasn’t always pretty against Hawaii, especially offensively. But it was a win.
“I’ve gotten over that frustration over the years of being here,” Kiffin said. “It is what it is. You sense that immediately in the postgame news conference when you come out to the media. There’s not a lot of questions about the brand new freshmen making plays. Significant plays. Justin Davis almost going for 100 yards. Su’a Cravens getting an interception on the fourth play of his career. The questions are always about something negative. It is what it is.”
At the root of those questions is the fact that USC’s quarterback soap opera has played out very publicly since the Sun Bowl loss last season. It’s certainly been a sore point with fans. That Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will likely go through the same first-half/second-half routine against Washington State after months of evaluation speaks to the divide between loyal followers and their head coach. No longer is there a Wittek camp vs. a Kessler camp. There is simply a pick-a-starter-already-camp vs. Kiffin.
But he’s not going to rush it. So expect both to play.
“I don’t think anything is ever certain,” Kiffin said when asked if both will see the field. “We’ll go in the game and see what happens and see how the game plays out. ... Our job is to win the game. Do the best that we can with the amount of players that we have and answer all of the questions and get to the next game.”
USC athletic director Pat Haden has shown unwavering support for his coach, though it’s widely believed that Kiffin has the hottest seat in the country and this is a make-or-break season. Finding the guy to replace Matt Barkley is a big decision -- one that could determine his future at USC. If he needs a couple extra weeks to make it, so be it. With the caveat that they are winning.
Neither Kessler nor Wittek looked particularly crisp in Week 1. Kessler was 10 of 19 for 95 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Wittek was 5 of 10 for 77 yards. The gameplan was a conservative one, to say the least. And neither got great play from an offensive line that looked more suspect than solid. As is usually the case, there is more at play than simply the quarterbacks.
So this week Kiffin will be looking for improved consistency across the board. For example, a more efficient performance in the pass attack (they combined for 51 percent); better production on third down (USC was 3 of 14) and better production in the red zone. USC was 4 of 4 inside the 20, but twice settled for field goals.
Kiffin offered this earlier in the week when asked to compare his quarterbacks: “I think they’ve become more similar over time because they’ve worked on the weaknesses in their game. There’s not much different when the guys are in there.”
And therein lies the problem. Kiffin doesn’t need two guys who are the same. He needs one who can be good enough to consistently get the job done. Until that happens, the current line of questioning will likely continue -- even if they keep winning.