USC Trojans: Monte Kiffin

USC's Pendergast factor

December, 28, 2013
A couple of you have asked about the difference Clancy Pendergast made for USC's defense this fall, which is a pretty easy to quantify.

And it seems some of you asked specifically because Oregon is now looking for a defensive coordinator after Nick Aliotti announced his retirement Friday after the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30.

We sometimes do take requests at the Pac-12 blog.

With seven starters back from the 2012 unit, the improvement was dramatic and across the board, despite the Trojans switching schemes from Monte Kiffin's 4-3 Tampa 2 to Pendergast's 3-4 -- or 5-2, as he calls it.

Here are the numbers:
2012 Pac-12, 2013 Pac-12

Scoring defense 5th (24.3 ppg), 2nd (21.3ppg)

Total defense 7th (394.0 ypg), 1st (341.2 ypg)

Rushing defense 8th (167.0 ypg), 2nd (126.7 ypg)

Passing defense 4th (227.0 ypg), 1st (214.5 ypg)

Pass Eff. Def. 6th (123.9), 3rd (114.0)

Opponent 1sts, 9th (22.6), 2nd (18.5)

Oppoent 3rd percentage 8th (38.0), 2nd (36.8)

Red zone def percentage 6th (81.1), 1st (63.4)

Further, the Trojans ranked in the nation's top 32 in every above number. In 2012, they didn't rank that highly in any of the above numbers. In fact, their highest national ranking was 40th in scoring defense.

And those 2013 numbers, by the way, including the absolute white flag performance at Arizona State, a 62-41 defeat, had a lot more to do with effort than scheme, which is why Lane Kiffin was fired the same night.

Pendergast has received plenty of praise for the job he did this year at USC. This makes clear it was justifiable.

Just saying, Ducks.

New defense appears to be better fit 

August, 12, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- It would be like comedian Adam Sandler playing George S. Patton, Barbara Streisand singing Lady Gaga or Paul McCartney replacing Mick Jagger as the lead singer in the Rolling Stones.

Sometimes things just don’t fit, as was the case when former USC Trojans defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin tried to transition his famed NFL Tampa 2 defense to the college level with mixed success, taking standing eight counts against high-powered spread option attacks such as the Oregon Ducks.

After three seasons, Kiffin finally resigned and returned to the NFL, and now former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast enters as the Trojans new DC. USC head coach Lane Kiffin is hoping that Pendergast's attacking 3-4 defense will stop the bleeding against the vaunted spread option teams of the Pac-12 and beyond.

Josh Shaw transferred from Florida to USC in the spring of 2012 thinking he was leaving an SEC power for a national title contender. Didn't exactly work out like that.

"I think everyone had big goals -- we all had national championship aspirations," said Shaw, a regular contributor for the Gators as a redshirt freshman in 2011. "But that didn't come true. In the middle of the season when we saw that going down the drain, we were like, 'OK, let's just win one game at at time and see where that takes us.'"

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireUSC defensive back Josh Shaw, who transferred from Florida, raved about Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 defense.
It seemed, however, the Trojans were not capable of finding solace in more mundane goals. Where the mindset of winning one game at a time took USC was a 7-6 spiral into the muck, including a disastrous performance in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech.

While QB Matt Barkley and coach Lane Kiffin took most of the blame, the mediocre play of a talented but underperforming defense can't be overlooked. And it wasn't. Kiffin gently led his father, Monte, a legend among NFL defensive coaches, out the door.

In came Clancy Pendergast, whose 3-4 scheme at California has morphed into a 5-2 for the Trojans. The early returns in spring were strong, and the early returns in preseason camp might be even stronger. Devon Kennard, back after missing 2012 with a torn pec, and Morgan Breslin look like a dynamic pair of outside linebackers, while Leonard Williams and George Uko are an A-list tandem at defensive end.

If fact, the Trojans' entire front seven looks stout, even with some iffy depth. The question is the secondary.

Check that. With Shaw moving from corner and Dion Bailey moving from linebacker to their more natural safety positions, the Trojans have added experience to a position deep with intriguing though young talent.

"I love it in this defense," Shaw said. "You're pretty much a general back there. You have to know what everyone else is doing. You have to be able to cover and come down into the box. You have to do it all."

So safety looks good. Cornerback? It's the big question on defense, and that likely won't completely work itself out until the final days of preseason camp, though the position is hardly bereft of talent.

Of course, the defense looked pretty good on paper last year, too. While looking back -- endlessly -- at 2012 due to media curiosity is not the No. 1 fun thing to do for the Trojans, it is part of the inevitable process of beginning to look ahead. It's about correcting mistakes and avoiding mental and emotional pratfalls that upended a season that began with such promise.

Shaw doesn't point a finger at Monte Kiffin. He points it at the players.

"I don't know if you can pinpoint one thing that went wrong," Shaw said. "Sometimes we just didn't come to play as a defense. Sometimes we had the right call in. You'd go into film and you'd see it was us as players not executing. It was the players more than anything."

That said, Shaw likes Pendergast's new scheme, in large part because it seems more conducive toward countering the diverse offensive schemes in the Pac-12, where one week you play a power offense such as Stanford and then square off with myriad versions of an up-tempo spread.

"The biggest difference is we are able to do so much more," Shaw said. "Last year, we only had a few calls. This year, we have so many different types we can call."

The chief call Shaw and USC wants to make, of course, is one that will silence those still tittering about the 2012 faceplant.
LOS ANGELES -- Devon Kennard didn't have to play through the prodigious frustration that was 2012 USC football. But he had to watch it -- and wonder what his impact might have been had it not been for a torn pectoral muscle that kept him out for the year.

The time to wonder is over. Kennard is back -- and healthy as ever -- as the Trojans transition to an odd-front defense under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

"I wasn't out there, but I know what it felt like," Kennard said. “It makes me appreciate what I can do for this team even more now. You have to let what happened last year go. But you still want to keep part of it in the back of your mind. You always want to play with a chip on your shoulder.”

[+] EnlargeDevon Kennard
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC is counting on Devon Kennard to make a smooth transition to a hybrid linebacker role in its new odd-front defensive scheme.
Continuing a league-wide trend, the Trojans are ditching the four-man front that was 69th in the nation (eighth in the league) last year against the run -- yielding 167 yards per game -- and going with an odd-front attack. Depending who you ask, it’s a 52 or 34 base; probably a bit of both depending on the opponent, scenario and offensive formation.

Regardless of who head coach Lane Kiffin hired to replace his father, Monte, as defensive coordinator, he knew he wanted to move away from the 4-3.

“It was probably the direction we were going to go regardless of who it was because of the conference,” Kiffin said. “College football has changed. Our conference has changed and it's dynamic, and it changes from week to week. There is so much perimeter running that goes on, whether it's quarterback, whether it's fly sweeps, whether it's backs, the ball is on the edge a lot -- a lot more than it's ever been. The 3-4 helps you with that because your guys are standing up on the edge and you're keeping the ball on the inside and limiting the perimeter plays.”

In the new scheme, Kennard and second-team all-league defensive lineman Morgan Breslin will become hybrid outside linebackers. Expect both to spend most snaps in a 2-point stance with the opportunity to rush, set an edge or drop back into coverage. It’s not totally foreign to Kennard since he would sometimes drop into coverage in the old scheme’s zone-blitz package.

“They could both rush, they could both drop back, one of them could do the other. It’s a very versatile defense,” said Pendergast, formerly of Cal. “This defense is really going to showcase their talents.”

The new scheme also means a position switch for linebacker Dion Bailey. Despite being a very thick 210 pounds, he’s better suited roaming the secondary. Last year he was more of a hybrid nickel/linebacker and tallied 80 tackles, including eight for a loss.

“We’ll be able to disguise what we’re doing a lot more pre-snap,” Bailey said. “We can move more people around and do a lot more with the personnel that we have. I think it’s a much better fit.

“For me, personally, I think it’s more of a natural position for me. I can better utilize my abilities, and it puts me in space where I can make plays. I really like it.”

Despite their struggles against the run, the Trojans ranked fourth in the nation last season in sacks per game, which is impressive. But they were still third in the league behind Stanford and Arizona State -- two other teams that have had great success with odd fronts. The hope is that with Kennard’s return, and putting Breslin in position to improve on his 13 sacks last season, the Trojans can wreak havoc at the point of attack -- not just the backfield.

The scheme is set. The coaches and players are in place. All that’s needed is the mentality to run it with brutal efficiency. In three of USC’s losses last season, they never led (Oregon, UCLA, Notre Dame). But the defense surrendered second-half leads against Stanford and Arizona, and they were tied at the half against Georgia Tech.

“We got out-willed in the fourth quarter too many times last year,” Bailey said. "That’s something we need to take in and learn from. It's not how you start, it's how you finish … we almost need to get back to how we were playing when we were on sanctions. Not playing for anybody else -- just playing for each other.”
As the Trojans begin the second week of spring ball sessions, they held a full pads practice on Tuesday without quarterback Max Wittek and wide receiver Marqise Lee.

Both players suffered knee injuries last Saturday prior to the Coliseum scrimmage that USC coach Lane Kiffin described as “not serious.”

[+] EnlargeSu'a Cravens
Erik McKinney/WeAreSC.comTrue freshman Su'a Cravens is already impressing during spring practice.
“It wasn’t one of our better practices,” Kiffin said. “This can happen in the second week, everyone is fired up to get going so they start well the first week but they came out today in full pads and it was hot so they need to learn to get through that. It had nothing to do with Wittek and Lee not being out there.”

Lee was fully dressed but did not participate in drills while Wittek was not in pads and he wore a sleeve brace around his right knee.

“I’ve got a sprained MCL,” Wittek said. “Nothing is torn, so that’s a positive, and it can’t get any worse so it’s just a matter of pain tolerance to when I can return. I’m rehabbing 2-3 times a day and if I can’t get back by the end of the week, I should be fine to go when we get back from spring break. You never want an injury but if it’s going to happen it’s good to happen now.

“The injury happened while I was holding for a placekick, kind of a silly way to happen. If there’s a bad snap again on a kick, if it’s not in a game I will probably get out of the way next time. But if the team needs me to be there, I’ll be there.”

MVP of the day: True freshman Su’a Cravens put together his best practice of spring with two interceptions and a key pass break-up, all against Max Browne. The first interception was an overthrown attempt by Browne to hit Xavier Grimble and Cravens simply played center field to get the pick. The second pick was an aggressive break on the ball by Cravens while the pass break-up came over the middle on a pass attempt for Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.

“Su’a is a very special player,” Kiffin said. “He prepares so well, always soaking things up, watching film. He’s similar to Robert Woods and Nickell Robey in that way and both of those guys started from day one.”

Kiffin said Cravens is already at 220 pounds.

(Read full post)

Roundtable: How will new staff work out? 

February, 28, 2013
Now that the coaching staff is set, give your thoughts on the coaching moves and how you think the new staff will shake out.

Garry Paskwietz
I like the vast majority of the changes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. There had to be a change at the top, and the move from Monte Kiffin to Clancy Pendergast should be a good one.

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Shortly after USC’s 62-51 loss to Oregon in November -- and four games before the end of the season -- the mastermind of the Trojans’ defense, Monte Kiffin, informed his son he would be stepping down at the end of the season. Lane Kiffin revealed that detail to on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeMonte Kiffin
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAfter the Trojans were torched by Oregon, Monte Kiffin told son Lane he'd be stepping down as defensive coordinator after the season.
“He said, ‘Hey, I just want you to know, you’re not going to have a tough decision to make after the year,' ” Lane Kiffin said. “He was like, ‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.’ "

Monte Kiffin, 72, resigned in December and was hired a month later to be the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. Before joining Lane at Tennessee four years ago, Monte Kiffin was credited with creating some of the best defenses in NFL history while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

USC hired former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, hoping his schemes have better success than Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defenses against spread and multiple-look offenses.

“When you come to this conference now, you see things you don’t see in the NFL. That’s not an easy thing to do,” Lane Kiffin said. “If you’ve gone 25 straight years of playing this certain scheme, now all of a sudden you play someone totally different, those rules and things suddenly don’t necessarily transfer over.”

Lane also said his father never could quite adjust to the NCAA rule limiting players’ contact with coaches to 20 hours.

“He’s an old-school coach now. He sleeps in the office. He doesn’t understand what a vacation means,” Lane Kiffin said. “He needs more time with the players because there are so many little rules in his defense to teach the guy. I don’t think we played really fast on defense, and that’s because we were thinking too much.”


Exit Interview: Tony Burnett

February, 15, 2013
Tony BurnettRic Tapia/Icon SMITony Burnett became a versatile contributor on defense and special teams for the Trojans.

Of all the seniors on the 2012 Trojans football team, no one took a more unique path into the program than Tony Burnett. Originally entering USC as a track and field athlete from nearby Los Angeles (Calif.) Southwest College in 2009, it wasn't until a chance meeting with Ed Orgeron one day in Heritage Hall that he decided to give football a shot.

Enjoying a breakout 10-tackle performance at safety against Notre Dame in 2010 -- his first season as a member of the team -- Burnett would develop into a major contributor on defense and special teams in his time on campus. Ultimately rewarded with a scholarship by coach Lane Kiffin, he showed tremendous versatility, moving over to cornerback in 2011, and then to linebacker this past season.

Now hoping for a shot at the NFL, Burnett took time out of his busy training schedule to talk to WeAreSC about his thoughts on his career at USC, as well as what's on tap for the future.

WeAreSC: First off, where do you stand in terms of graduation?

Burnett: I'm taking one last biology class. It's a spring-only class, but then I'll have a B.A. in Human Performance from USC.

(Read full post)

USC adds a laugh track to bowl season

December, 31, 2012
Every time the CBS cameras showed Lane Kiffin during Monday’s 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, he had a big, black hood over his head and he wore sunglasses that obscured much of his face.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/USA TODAY SportsCoach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans take on Utah State on Saturday on ABC.
Kiffin’s aim, presumably, was to counter the blustery, oddly sunny conditions in El Paso, but it looked as if he was trying not to be noticed. Who can blame him?

Monday’s two-touchdown loss -- to a team that got blown out by Middle Tennessee, finished below .500 and had to petition to play in a bowl game -- seemed like a fitting finale to USC’s season, in which expectations and reality meshed as well as garlic and peppermint ice cream.

To me, it seemed like the No. 1 ranking was a bit much back in September, but I never would have predicted such a mess of a season from a team with good senior leadership and so many playmakers.

It all seems to suggest changes need to come for 2013, from the way Kiffin approaches the offense to the way the defense approaches spread offenses. This USC season went from bad to worse to embarrassing in incremental steps and Monday the Trojans finally reached the ground floor.

The damage had already been done way before the Trojans got to the far west corner of Texas. Tough losses to Oregon, Stanford and Notre Dame stung. Bad losses to UCLA and Arizona infuriated. When a team disappoints as thoroughly as this USC team did, how it fares in some far-off bowl in between holidays doesn’t linger much in most fans’ memories.

But there has to be accountability for the way this season unraveled at the end. ESPN’s Pac-12 blogger, Ted Miller, wrote that USC is “three touchdowns better than the Yellow Jackets,” but it didn’t look like Georgia Tech’s only edge Monday was motivation. The Yellow Jackets looked better-coached. They looked more confident. They looked like they were playing with more joy and more togetherness.

USC’s defensive guru, Monte Kiffin, coached his last game for the Trojans on Monday. The 72-year-old NFL legend decided to step down after a series of defensive breakdowns in the Trojans’ biggest games. It's nice that his defense sent him off with a solid effort, better than the score reflects. Georgia Tech scored one of its touchdowns on a punt return.

That’s fine, but -- how’s this for a depressing thought for 2013 -- USC looked awful in every phase other than defense against Georgia Tech. Quarterback Max Wittek, the presumptive starter next season, looked lost at sea, flinging balls over receivers’ heads, into opponents’ arms, off defensive ends’ hands and skipping off the turf. He completed only the easiest of throws, but for some reason Kiffin kept giving him difficult ones.

Playing in blustery conditions, punter Kyle Negrete drove a third-quarter punt low and short, a mistake that turned into Georgia Tech’s second touchdown -- the easiest special-teams score you’re going to find. You would think Negrete would have gotten in rhythm, considering he had to punt eight times.

It took USC more than 21 minutes of the second half to pick up a first down. Wittek threw three interceptions and his average completion was for 2.9 yards.

Maybe by next spring, nobody will be thinking about this game any longer. Hopefully, Wittek won’t let it consume him for the next few months because he still could have a bright future at USC.

Maybe it will be just a lousy game, one of those that some day will raise a giggle or two from USC fans remembering a sad season.

But Kiffin has to learn from it, or nobody’s going to be laughing any longer.

Hyundai Sun Bowl: USC keys 

December, 31, 2012
[+] EnlargeMax Wittek
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokRedshirt freshman Max Wittek has a chance to solidify his hold on the starting quarterback spot with a good performance in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
1. Defending the option: Don’t look now, USC defense, but another variation of an option offense is on the way. After giving up big numbers against spread option teams in 2012 – most notably 730 total yards and 61 points against Oregon – the Trojans now must contend with the “flexbone” triple option attack from Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets won’t be throwing the ball as much as some of the other offenses that USC has faced, but the Yellow Jackets are very good at running the ball, currently No. 4 in the nation at more than 312 yards per game. The Trojans will be looking to play well in the final game under defensive coach Monte Kiffin, who has announced his resignation following the bowl game.

2. Moving on with Max: With the news that Matt Barkley will not be able to play in the game because of an injured shoulder, it means that redshirt freshman Max Wittek will get his second start at quarterback for the Trojans. Wittek showed a strong arm in his starting debut against Notre Dame and this game will be a big opportunity for him to cement his spot as Barkley’s full-time replacement in 2013. It could also be a chance for Lane Kiffin to get some reps for Cody Kessler in game conditions.

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Preparing for the dive, the quarterback and the pitch

December, 24, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Saturday was Monte Kiffin’s final practice on the USC campus in charge of the USC Trojans defense.

But he didn’t want to talk about it as he walked off the Trojans’ practice field for the final time. He did, however, want to talk about the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets offense, the unusual animal USC is facing in a week for the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

In fact, he can’t stop talking about the wishbone triple-option Georgia Tech runs -- an offense he hasn’t attempted to scheme against in more than three decades.

“The dive, the quarterback and the pitch,” said Kiffin, who resigned from his post as USC’s de facto defensive coordinator last month. “You don’t know which one it is.”

He’s been repeating those words over and over to his players for the last week. And they’re starting to stick, according to senior safety T.J. McDonald.

“Everybody has a responsibility, and that’s it,” McDonald said. “You read your key and you go.”

McDonald said he “didn’t understand” the defenses that some of Georgia Tech’s opponents have used this season.

“It didn’t make a lot of sense sometimes,” he said.

But the defense Kiffin wants the Trojans to play makes sense to McDonald. It requires every player on the defense to work together to stop all three options -- the dive, the quarterback and the pitch.

Passing is a secondary worry. Tech quarterback Tevin Washington completed just 72 passes this season -- fewer than USC’s Matt Barkley threw in his final three games.

“I want to make this quarterback show me he can throw the ball,” McDonald said. “They’re a running offense, and they know that and we know that.”

As for Kiffin, he said he’ll be more ready to say goodbye after the New Year’s Eve bowl game, but he’s already envisioning the occasional return visits.

“I’d like to come back here at some point and watch,” Kiffin said. “See the head coach and see how these freshmen became sophomores and juniors and seniors.”

Wittek rearing to go

Barkley made an appearance at two USC practices over the weekend, but only to watch.

The injured quarterback is staying off the field at least until Wednesday, when he’ll attempt to suit up for the Trojans during their first bowl practice in El Paso.

Meanwhile, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler continue to split first-team reps in his stead, with Wittek still the planned starter if Barkley can’t recover from his sprained shoulder in time to start.

Wittek dismissed any concern about a lack of readiness for a bowl-game start.

“I’ve been preparing for things like these opportunities all year,” he said. “It’s not too much different than Notre Dame, other than the time that we have to prepare for Georgia Tech.”

Head coach Lane Kiffin said Barkley’s injury has allowed him to get both potential quarterbacks adequate practice reps of late, which would otherwise be impossible.

“The one positive about Matthew not being here is those guys get more reps,” Kiffin said.

Robey has a plan

Junior cornerback Nickell Robey is expecting to receive his pre-draft evaluation back from the NFL any day now, and he’s also planning on placing a lot of value in it regarding his decision whether to return for his senior season at USC.

“It’s pretty important to me, because NFL scouts took the time out to watch my film and really concentrate on what I need to get done,” Robey said. “The more information I get as far as my ability at the next level, it’s going to better my decision.”

He even has an exact round grade and corresponding decision in mind. If the NFL Draft Advisory Board tells Robey they expect him to be a third-round selection, he’ll come back to school, he said.

So only a first- or second-round grade will lead him to the NFL.

“Nothing less than that,” Robey said.

Rogers impresses his coach

Incoming receiver Darreus Rogers has practiced three times with the Trojans, and has already earned the respect of his position coach, Tee Martin.

Martin said Rogers has the athletic ability of a college receiver and a mind that is learning how to handle the demands of the next level.

“He asks the right questions,” Martin said of Rogers on Friday. “And, yeah, it’s only the second day, but his retention has been good. I just throw questions at him in the middle of anything and his attention span has been good.”

Rogers will not travel with the Trojans to El Paso due to NCAA rules. He will enroll at USC in January and can resume working out with the team then.

Final notes: Running back Silas Redd submitted an evaluation request to the NFL but is “definitely leaning toward staying” at USC for his senior season, he said. Redd transferred from the Penn State Nittany Lions in August. ... The Trojans are in the middle of a four-day holiday break before reconvening in El Paso on Wednesday. Many players flew home and are meeting the team in Texas. … Martin, on trying to recruit Rogers while an assistant at Kentucky in 2011: “I knew I didn’t have a shot, but I knew who he was. He wasn’t coming to Kentucky.”

Wrapping up USC's first week of bowl practices

December, 7, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Here's a look at everything else that happened with the USC Trojans this week, including their first two bowl practices, an early trip to El Paso and more:

Defensive coordinator plans

USC coach Lane Kiffin won't begin the formal process of searching for a new defensive coordinator until after the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.

Kiffin's father, Monte, resigned as assistant head coach and de facto defensive coordinator following a disappointing 7-5 season. Kiffin says he plans to hire a true defensive coordinator to replace him, despite defensive line coach Ed Orgeron holding that title this season.

"We'll take our time and make sure that we get the right fit," Lane Kiffin said on Wednesday after the Trojans' first bowl practice.

Kiffin did indicate he will begin the process of sorting out candidates before the bowl game.

"I think you can kind of start it in your head," Kiffin said.

Kiffin is not afraid of a mid-January hire hurting his program in recruiting, even with signing day on Feb. 6. He pointed out that he was hired on Jan. 12 in 2010 and still signed a top recruiting class.

"It's not as quick as you think," Kiffin said of the time between the end of the bowl game and signing day. "One assistant coach isn't gonna be a big deal, and we still have over a month after the game until signing day."

Barkley back

Quarterback Matt Barkley missed Wednesday's practice while in New York for an awards banquet and walked into the Trojans' Friday session midway through, wearing sweats but no shoulder sling.

He has not practiced since suffering a sprained throwing shoulder Nov. 17, but he's still on track to start on Dec. 31.

Kiffin told reporters in El Paso on Thursday that Barkley "obviously wouldn't have been able to play if it had been an earlier [bowl] game."

USC's other bowl-game date possibilities were Dec. 22 and Dec. 27.

(Read full post)

USC coach Lane Kiffin will look outside his current coaching staff to fill the role of defensive coordinator, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The new defensive coordinator will also handle play-calling for the defense, a role that had been held since 2010 by assistant head coach Monte Kiffin, Lane’s father, who will resign after the upcoming Sun Bowl.

There had been speculation that USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron -- who held the title of defensive coordinator since 2010 -- would be a leading candidate for the play-caller role. Instead, Orgeron will be given the title of assistant head coach in addition to his current D-line and recruiting roles.

"Ed and myself are on the exact same page here," Kiffin told The Times. "Our No. 1 goal is to bring USC back to a championship level on defense. In order to do that we need to bring in someone from the outside."

One of the biggest credentials for the Trojans new defensive play-caller will be experience -- and success -- against the spread option offenses that have populated college football in recent years, particularly in the Pac-12 Conference.

Kiffin didn’t name any specific candidates or give a deadline to conclude his search.
Some selected quotes from Lane Kiffin’s Sunday night conference call following the announcement that USC will be playing in the 2012 Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas against Georgia Tech.

“On behalf of all of USC, we’re very excited about this matchup, and coming down there for a New Year’s Eve game. And, obviously, we have a very quality opponent who has finished their season very strong down the stretch. They’ve had a long run of great bowl games and they’re extremely well coached. We’re excited to get to work and start our preparations this week for the game.”

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin and Matt Barkley
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesLane Kiffin expects to have Matt Barkley back for the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve.
On what has gone wrong for the Trojans in 2012:
“I think that it’s been well documented. We turned the ball over too much on offense, and we didn’t play very good defense a lot of times. So when you give up the numbers that we did on defense, and then the turnover margin -- the way we turned the ball over the last half of the season -- that’s where we’re at today. We started the season -- I think we’re 6-1, getting ready to go 7-1 -- up 15 at Arizona, and then it went downhill from ther,e and we had five really bad weeks where we went 1-4 in those games.”

On playing in a bowl for the first time since 2009:
“It’s very exciting, especially for two years of sitting at home and not being able to go to a bowl game. We’re excited about a very good bowl and a great matchup.”

On whether Matt Barkley is expected to play:
“We anticipate that Matt will play.”

On whether Monte Kiffin will coach the bowl game:
“He will, yes.”

On whether Georgia Tech has an edge playing in the same bowl in 2011:
“Well, I think that having gone through that as coaches and players, that there is some advantage, but I don’t think that it’s that big. Every year people go to bowl games, and most of the time they have not been to that bowl game with that current team over the last couple of years. So I don’t think that it’s that big of an advantage.”

On facing Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense:
“Yes, it’s obviously going to be very different, and they’re unbelievable at it. They’ve done a great job and they understand the adjustments so well. So our video guy got everything cut up today of their whole season, and we’ll go to work in the morning.”

On how going to the Sun Bowl will help the program:
“Well, it’s great first off just because you get more practices for our young players who are our future. You know, to have these practices that we’ve not had over the last two years.”

On whether or not Kiffin has ever faced Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson:
“No, I have not. I just have a lot of respect for the way that his teams have played. I think it’s well documented that [they] haven’t recruited a bunch of five-star players over the years -- he’s done an unbelievable job of making the most out of their players. They’ve been playing extremely competitive for years.”

On the significance of the game for Matt Barkley:
“He hasn’t gone to a bowl game over the last couple of years, so it’s a chance to go to one and finish off strong – for him and for the senior class. It’s a great opportunity for him.”

On if Kiffin knows when he plans to hire a new defensive coordinator:
“I do not.”

On how many practices USC will use in preparation for the Sun Bowl:
“There will probably be somewhere between 13-15.”

On the team’s mood after landing in the Sun Bowl:
“I think they’re excited because they haven’t had a bowl game the last two years. You know, the chance to do that as opposed to sitting at home. I think they’re very excited for it.”

The team’s reaction to Monte Kiffin's resignation:
“Well, I think they’re a little bit sad because they’ve had a lot of experience with him -- some recruits came here partially because of him -- but I know that they respect him for his work ethic and what he’s done, and how much energy he put in to try to make them better.”

More on USC's Sun Bowl appearance

December, 2, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Barkley is expected to play, Monte Kiffin will still coach and USC will practice 13-15 times before its New Year's Eve appearance at the Hyundai Sun Bowl against ACC runner-up Georgia Tech.

That's all the Trojans know for now -- and the game's in El Paso, Texas at 11 a.m. PT. USC coach Lane Kiffin said he'll begin to review tape on the Yellow Jackets and their famed triple-option offense on Monday morning.

But, he said Sunday night, earning a bowl bid this season was "very exciting, especially after two years of sitting at home of not being able to play."

Kiffin went on to say he and the Trojans were "excited" or the bowl announcement was "exciting" at least five more times in a conference call lasting less than 10 minutes.

He also said that he anticipates Barkley will play one last collegiate game. The senior signal-caller missed last month's regular-season finale against Notre Dame because of a sprained shoulder suffered against UCLA.

Kiffin said USC's players were a "little bit sad" when they heard Thursday's news that assistant coach Monte Kiffin would resign after the bowl game.

"Some recruits came here partially because of him," Lane Kiffin said. "But I know that they respect him for his work ethic and what he's done."

Georgia Tech (6-7) is the only team with a losing record that will play in a bowl this postseason. The Yellow Jackets' offense, averaging 34.5 points, is fourth in the country in rushing yards per game, at over 300.

Quarterback Tevin Washington has 19 rushing touchdowns this season, an ACC single-season record. He's one of three Yellow Jackets to rush for at least 300 yards this season.

The Tech defense allows nearly 30 points per game but held No. 13 Florida State to just 21 points in a six-point loss in the ACC championship on Saturday.

USC will begin bowl-game practices on Wednesday and practice between 13 and 15 times before the Sun Bowl, Kiffin said.

The bowl's late date -- the other options would've been on Dec. 22 or Dec. 27 -- gives USC more practice time, and also allows Barkley more time to heal his shoulder.