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Lane Kiffin's baffling offensive philosophy neuters Marqise Lee

Ben Liebenberg / NFL
After posting huge numbers in 2012, Marqise Lee's production has been severely limited in 2013.

USC threw for 54 yards Saturday night in its 10-7 loss to Washington State, meaning the Trojans threw for less yards than all three service academy option offenses. Embattled head coach Lane Kiffin, whose seat went from Hawaiian volcano to surface-of-the-sun hot, scrapped any semblance of a downfield passing attack for quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek and instead resorted to a variety of screens that made USC even easier to defend.

All-America wide receiver Marqise Lee finished with seven receptions for 27 yards and three carries for minus-3 yards. Nearly every touch for Lee began behind the line of scrimmage, forcing him to try and evade the multiple Cougars assigned to cover him.

The one pass Lee actually caught downfield came on a fourth-and-eight in the fourth quarter saw him give up the first down in an attempt to break free for a bigger gain. Lee's frustration, which was on display in the opener, boiled over as he tried to single-handedly manufacture a passing game.

Sophomore Nelson Agholor did not have a reception, while the rest of the wide receivers and tight ends totaled just two catches for 15 yards. USC did not have a pass play longer than 8 yards.

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The only semblance of a bright spot for the USC offense remains redshirt sophomore Tre Madden. After moving from linebacker to running back during spring practices in 2012 and missing last season with a knee injury, Madden rushed for 151 yards on 32 carries and caught two passes for 12 yards, meaning he accounted for 84.5 percent of his team’s offensive output.

It was clear that Kiffin either had no faith in his quarterback, was coaching scared or both. Kiffin's insistence on a sideline-to-sideline game, especially after Kessler threw a pick-six late in the second quarter, allowed WSU to simply pack the box and rally to the ball, making Madden's second consecutive 100-yard game that much more impressive.

"We're trying to get the passing game situated before we try to go vertical," Lee told the Los Angeles Times. "Try to get the little things before we try to go for the big things."

But that approach made Lee, one of the biggest things in college football entering the 2013 season, so ineffective and little that it became a self-destructive philosophy, one that may well end with Kiffin's coaching career self-destructing.

Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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