In the record book, the Trojans did their job this week. They beat Hawaii, and did so with room to spare, winning 30-13.
But the final score tells little about what happened on the islands on the first night of the college football season, a game in which Lane Kiffin's squad looked positively inept on offense, incapable of exploiting a Warriors defense that finished in the bottom 25 in the country in virtually every category.
For a more indicative score, we should look to the middle of the second quarter, when this was the tally:
Hawaii leads USC 5-3. GAME OVER.— edsbs (@edsbs) August 30, 2013
Last year, USC was ranked No. 1 to open the season, and took Hawaii behind the shed in the opener, reeling off 35 unanswered points in the first half -- and only that few because of Kiffin's Kiffin-esque decision to go for three two-point conversions and fail all three. Of course, that team would finish 7-6.
This year, with no star quarterback but an elite wide receiver, they are inexplicably ranked 24th, and at one point in the second quarter, they trailed 5-3, having given up a safety and allowed a field goal.
A CURSE UPON US ALL RT @chuckycrater: Shame on all of us for not using "HAWAII FIVE-3" while it was sitting there on the table.— Jason Kirk (@JasonKirkSBN) August 30, 2013
This raises the question: if a USC team ranked No. 1 that blew the doors of Hawaii ended up 7-6, where does a team ranked No. 24 that was losing 5-3 to Hawaii end up? A 5-8 record? In the very bowels of hell?
We should give credit to USC's defense, which absolutely dominated the Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii started Ohio State transfer Taylor Graham, who ended up going a brutal 16-for-41 with four interceptions. Some of this was Graham's fault: he perpetually missed targets, overthrowing and hitting behind them on easy interceptions. (Isn't Norm Chow a QB guru?) But the Trojans deserve some credit for capitalizing and running one back for a score. Graham had virtually no time behind a strong USC pass rush, and was sacked seven times, and when those sacks are included the Warriors had just 22 yards on 31 rushing attempts. The Trojans' defense did its job.
The Trojans' offense? Well, not so much.
After not revealing his starter for weeks and weeks and weeks before naming Cody Kessler in the hours before the game, it sorta became clear why. Kessler routinely struggled with throwing simple passes like screens, lofting one in between three Warriors defenders for a pick and tossing another practically into the arms of a Hawaii lineman who couldn't hold on to the floater. He finished an uninspiring 10-for-19 with 95 yards with a touchdown and a pick.
Max Wittek, who entered the game at random intervals, moved the ball better, with 77 yards on 10 attempts, but had to burn a few time outs to avoid delay of game penalties. He was in charge as the Trojans offense stalled in a goal-to-go situation, missing a receiver for what should've been a touchdown before the team settled for a field goal.
The Trojans put 30 points on the board, which is more than a few. But that doesn't mean this was a good effort. Hawaii allowed 35.7 points per game on average last season, and those stats are skewed by a 54-2 win over Lamar and a 23-7 win over transitioning FBS school South Alabama. In 10 games against FBS teams, they allowed under 40 points three times: against a brutal UNLV team, against Air Force, and against an equally brutal New Mexico team that put up 35 points anyway.
And with four turnovers, you'd expect USC to do even better than that. They started four drives in enemy territory, and scored seven points off of a pick-six. But given prime field position against an awful defense, the offense only managed two touchdown drives: one of 30 yards and one ending in the game's final minute with the result well in hand.
I guess I could've also showed you this screengrab:
Seriously, look at this from USC: pic.twitter.com/4SC3hCOCiu— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) August 30, 2013
Lane Kiffin not content to let Paul Pasqualoni have the inept offense spotlight all to himself.— Mark Ennis (@Mengus22) August 30, 2013
Lane Kiffin could take a really great thing that's almost impossible to screw up and screw it up.— Farmer Jones (@thefarmerjones) August 30, 2013
What is the record for illegal substitution penalties in a game? #USC— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) August 30, 2013
If you are keeping score, #USC used all of its timeouts already. All called because of confusion on offense.— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) August 30, 2013
The way Lane Kiffin's career is going, he might only get six or seven more chances.— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) August 30, 2013
Reminder: USC had to steal Lane Kiffin. Like, a lot of effort went into it. And money.— sir broosk (@celebrityhottub) August 30, 2013
Does Lane Kiffin have any other dads he can fire?— Doug Keegan (@doug_keegan) August 30, 2013
if lane kiffin stays on the island i am sure there is an extra spot for him on hawaii five-o america's number one drama— Martin Rickman (@martinrickman) August 30, 2013
Oh, and Hawaii's touchdown with 30 seconds left got them the cover, because college football.