Sorry, Lane: Daddy Kiffin's Defense Didn't Ruin Matt Barkley's Heisman Chances

By Justine Hendricks

Women who look like Layla Kiffin do not live in homes without mirrors, so her husband, Lane, shouldn’t have this much trouble finding one. Mrs. Kiffin needs to sit her hubby in front of one stat, because the USC Trojans‘ head coach has somehow managed to blame just about everyone and everything associated with the program for the team’s failings in 2012 – everyone and everything besides himself, that is.

In an interview with, Kiffin called out the USC defense out for hurting senior quarterback Matt Barkley‘s quest for the program’s seventh* Heisman Trophy:

“I’ve said this before: If Matt Barkley had the defense that Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer had, Matt Barkley would have won the Heisman Trophy just like they did. He would have had the winning records they had.”

While the 2012 Trojans’ defense was, admittedly, nowhere close to the legendary units to which Kiffin refers, it had very little to do with Barkley’s Heisman campaign heading way off the rails.

The defense was a factor in the team’s 7-6 record, but it was far from the only problem USC faced (see also: underwhelming offense, questionable play-calling, etc.), and sometimes it even bailed the Trojans out of tough spots.

It also wasn’t Barkley’s biggest Heisman hurdle – it wasn’t really his problem at all.

Yes, a 7-6 record is a surefire way to dash Heisman hopes, but so is surpassing your career single-season interception mark in what is supposed to be your victory lap year. The offensive line, with a big hole where Matt Kalil used to be, can take some of the blame for that one, but not the defense.

If any quarterback could blame his defense for killing his chances at hoisting a big hunk of bronze in NYC, it’s Geno Smith. He only threw for 4,205 yards, 42 touchdowns and six interceptions all season, but West Virginias defense, enjoying its entry into the Big-12 “We Don’t Do Defense” conference, allowed an average of 44.3 points per game in the Mountaineers’ six losses.

Smith threw for 656 yards and eight touchdowns in the Baylor game – one game! – and won a narrow 70-63 victory. If the WVU defense had been able to stop someone, the team and its big-armed QB might not have fallen off the BCS radar by the end of October.

That’s the defense hurting someone’s Heisman chances.

Much can be said about USC’s defense – and much has been said over the last few seasons – but it is not to blame for Barkley missing out on the trophy. The rest of the offense – the inconsistent running game, the unwise play-calling – should shoulder some of the responsibility. (And who calls the plays, class? Yes, that would be Lane.)

Barkley’s fall from the Heisman conversation was as much Barkley’s fault as anyone’s. Kiffin criticized the QB’s decision-making earlier in the year, and Barkley himself admitted after the season that he sometimes locked in on Marqise Lee when other receivers were open and he paid the price.

Barkley leaves USC without a Heisman or a National Championship, both of which were very much within his grasp one year ago, but at 22, he’s already displayed far more self-awareness, leadership, and maturity than the head coach he’s leaving behind.

In four years as a starter, Barkley was always among the first to give credit to the rest of the team when it was successful and the first to take the blame when things went wrong.

Kiffin can throw everyone under the bus before himself, but it’ll hit him eventually. What are the odds he’ll finally catch a glimpse of his reflection in its wheels right before they run him over?


*Reggie Bush had the seventh but his has been returned and officially does not count. 

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