A few places around the blogosphere are lauding Mike Riley for his “game-winning” decision to go for two, rather than settle for an over-time-ensuring extra-point in the Sun Bowl yesterday. Guts they call it. But USC fans know better.
Never mind that Riley wouldn’t look so “smart” or “gutsy” if the Beavers had failed to convert two points ... or that OSU running back Yvenson Bernard barely made it into the end zone. USC fans experienced Riley’s “smarts” and “guts” when he was calling plays for the Trojans, and we know it’s just dumb luck.
We saw Riley's "guts" for nearly an entire season in 1995 when he was the offensive coordinator for the Trojans. Anyone who thinks Lane Kiffin’s performance this season is something to complain about doesn’t remember (or wasn’t around) for Riley’s debauchery 11 years ago …
Coming off a demolition of undersized Texas Tech at the Cotton Bowl (in which USC passed for 435 yards) to end the 1994 season, the Trojans were supposed to bring USC Football back to glory in ‘95. SI’s college football preview issue featured Keyshawn Johnson on the cover and ranked USC No. 1. Johnson was a leading Heisman candidate, and L.A. was abuzz with anticipation for the season.
Adding to the hype, 1995 was the third season of John Robinson’s second tenure as USC head coach, and the “experts” were drawing parallels to Robinson’s first stint at SC in which the Trojans won the national championship in 1978. All the pieces were in place, supposedly.
As we know now, Robinson Part Deux was a bad retread, and Riley as OC was a big part of the problem. First, USC decided to go with a two-headed quarterback – Brad Otten and Kyle Wachholtz. Then, Riley decided to use Johnson as a decoy (in a literal attempt to turn USC back into “Tailback U”) rather than throw to the proven prototype 6’ 4” receiver that nobody could cover.
The results, given the hype and expectations, were not good. USC lost to Notre Dame 38-10 and listlessly tied Washington the following week. Sure the Trojans locked up a Pac-10 title, but then USC lost 24-20 to ugla at the Coliseum.
In what may be the worst example of clock management in the history of USC Football, the Trojan offense, needing two scores late in the game, took its sweet time, repeatedly running the ball to score a single touchdown … which left no time for another score. Pathetic and useless.
It wasn’t until the Rose Bowl that Riley got some brains (or guts) … he stayed with Otten for the entire game and got Keyshawn the “damn ball.” As a result, USC came back to beat No. 3 Northwestern … No. 3 Northwestern … 41-32.
It was a great bowl win, but USC fans were left wondering what might have been if Riley had displayed more guts (or brains) throughout the ’95 season. Instead he waited until the last quarter of the Rose Bowl to find his “cajones.” (And, of course, it was all down hill from there, until lightning struck and Mike Garrett won the Pete Carroll Lotto.)
No doubt the Sun Bowl was a nice win for Oregon State. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart.
Fight On! Beat the Wolverines!