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Criticism doesn’t faze Kiffin

Times Staff Writer

USC players and coaches met Tuesday for the first time since the Trojans’ upset loss to UCLA and vowed to put the experience behind when they begin preparations for Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

But the loss to the Bruins lingers for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

“I’ve obviously gone over many plays in my head from the end of the game till right now,” Kiffin said. “It’s very similar to the game at the Rose Bowl [against Texas]. One play can make such a difference.”

UCLA clinched the 13-9 victory when linebacker Eric McNeal tipped and intercepted a pass by quarterback John David Booty with just over a minute left and the Trojans on the Bruins’ 18-yard-line. The play ended a frustrating day for the Trojans, who failed to adjust to a Bruins defense that pressured Booty and stuffed the running game.

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Kiffin, 31, has since been mercilessly criticized on Internet message boards and also on a blog that calls for his dismissal.

“I’ve got a lot of things to worry about,” he said. “That’s not at the top of my list.”

Kiffin, the son of Monte Kiffin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator, said he expected and accepted scrutiny.

“When you get into this, if you want high-level jobs like this, it’s going to happen,” he said. “You’re going to get more credit than you deserve when you do well and you’re going to get more criticism than you deserve when you don’t.”

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Quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian, who oversees the offense with Kiffin, said there was plenty of blame to go around.

“I thought we all got a little hesitant, from the play-calling to the offensive line to the running backs and protection to the quarterback,” Sarkisian said. “When you have a group playing hesitant, then that goes against everything we believe in: playing fast and putting the pressure on the defense.

“They applied the pressure on us and we didn’t respond great to it.”

Asked when he thought he would be able to put the loss behind, Kiffin said, “I can’t predict. The last one didn’t really go away very much until the [season-opening] Arkansas game.”

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Said Sarkisian: “When you lose in the regular season, it’s easy; you’ve got to get right back to getting ready for an opponent you play the next Saturday. [After] losing to Texas you have to wait a year and then losing this one you have to wait a month. That’s hard.”

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Booty spent the last two days going over the UCLA game in his mind.

“It’s important for me to let that one go,” he said. “It’s in the past. My responsibility, and all of the captains, is to get everybody back on track.”

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Coach Pete Carroll said he talked to players about the loss and where the Trojans go from here.

“We didn’t play well and we have nobody to blame but ourselves,” he said. “And so we’re not going to be pointing the finger and yapping about stuff. We’re going to get back to business and have a real good preparation.”

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USC will practice on Saturday and Sunday, then break until Dec. 14.... Safety Taylor Mays was selected to the Sporting News’ Freshman All-American team.

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gary.klein@latimes.com


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