LOS ANGELES (AP) — After coach Lane Kiffin spent last week haranguing his Southern California players about their 11 penalties in the season opener, the Trojans went out and committed 13 more.
So the USC coach will try the silent treatment this week when the 18th-ranked Trojans try to earn a victory that won’t actually send them sliding down the national rankings.
Kiffin said he won’t discuss penalties and the discipline necessary to avoid them while No. 18 USC (2-0) prepares to visit Minnesota on Saturday.
“We’ve gone the other way with it,” Kiffin said. “Maybe our players were drawn to it because we paid so much attention to it, so we’re not going to talk about it, because it can’t get worse.”
After two games, USC and Arizona State are tied for the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision lead with 24 penalties. USC’s 240 penalty yards are the most in the nation — and only Florida International, which had 14 penalties and 126 yards in its only game, has played more mistake-laden football than Kiffin’s Trojans.
That’s just part of the reason USC has dropped two spots in the AP poll after each of its unimpressive victories. After the Trojans’ prolific offense covered for a shaky defense in a 49-36 win over Hawaii, USC’s defense managed to grind out a 17-14 win over Virginia last Saturday while the offense sputtered.
“I talked about (penalties) immediately in the locker room after the game, just like I did before the game, just like I did in every team meeting (last) week, and that didn’t work,” Kiffin said. “It’s not that it won’t be noticed. It’s just that … that was my predecessor’s whole deal: Whatever you talk about, they draw towards. So maybe I screwed that one up.”
Kiffin said the Trojans had “the most miserable 2-0 locker room I’ve ever been in” after beating the Cavaliers, a three-touchdown underdog, in their home opener. Much of that discomfort was due to penalties: A holding penalty nullified a long touchdown catch by Ronald Johnson, and another penalty canceled a fourth-down conversion.
“We’ve got to eliminate those,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “Those can’t be in our DNA later in the season.”
The players say they were well aware of the importance of discipline after Kiffin posted the Pac-10’s penalty statistics around the locker room last week with the Trojans on top of the list.
“That’s something we’ve got to eliminate, something we’ve got to get better at,” said safety T.J. McDonald, who had 14 tackles and made his first career interception in the Trojans’ end zone in the first quarter. “Coach Kiffin had been harping about that on us all week. I feel like we played a good game on defense, but we can always get better.”
Kiffin realizes USC got a major break on a penalty called against Virginia, which was whistled for an illegal block while executing a picture-perfect fake punt that would have put theCavaliers deep in USC territory in the second quarter.
Virginia coach Mike London said the Pac-10 officiating crew apologized to him at halftime, saying it blew the call.
The Trojans also received a handful of penalties Kiffin couldn’t explain: McDonald got a personal foul in the third quarter for what the officials called “targeting a defenseless receiver,” and tight end Rhett Ellison was ejected for an unspecified transgression after Virginia’s failed onside kick in the final seconds. Kiffin got no explanations for the calls, and couldn’t figure them out after watching film.
But Kiffin adamantly refused to echo former coach Pete Carroll’s occasional declarations that USC gets called for more penalties because of its success over the past decade.
“There are a couple questionable calls, but I refuse to buy into that,” Kiffin said. “Because it’s SC, or people are jealous, or whatever the reasons are that people think that. I actually heard that in our staff meeting. Someone said that. That won’t be said again around here.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)