USC’s Lane Kiffin could have been at Minnesota

If not for a twist of fate, Lane Kiffin might be coaching Minnesota rather than 18th-ranked USC on Saturday at Minnesota.

Kiffin was USC’s young and ambitious offensive coordinator in January 2007 when he took a formal step toward becoming a head coach by interviewing at Minnesota, which was seeking a replacement for the fired Glen Mason.

The next week, Minnesota hired Tim Brewster, now in his fourth season with the Golden Gophers.

But before the month was over, Kiffin was coaching the Oakland Raiders, the start of a three-year odyssey that included one-plus seasons with the NFL team and another at Tennessee before returning to USC to replace Pete Carroll.

Now Kiffin takes his penalty-plagued, 2-0 Trojans to Minneapolis to play a 1-1 Minnesota team coming off a 41-38 upset loss to South Dakota.

Minnesota, 15-25 under Brewster, is led by running back Duane Bennett, a 5-foot-9 junior averaging 145.5 yards rushing a game.

Bennett rushed for 187 yards in 30 carries in a 24-17 victory over Middle Tennessee State and then gained 104 yards and scored two touchdowns in 18 carries against South Dakota.

The Minnesota staff includes Tim Davis, who served as USC’s offensive line coach under Carroll before leaving to join the Miami Dolphins staff in 2005. Davis is the offensive line coach and running game coordinator for the Gophers.

Officials penalized

Citing a failure to apply the playing rules correctly, the Pacific 10 Conference has reprimanded and removed from a future game assignment officials who were involved in making a controversial call during USC’s victory over Virginia.

The call in question came after a fake punt by Virginia in the second quarter, nullifying a long gain by the Cavaliers. Officials “misapplied rules for blocking below the waist,” the conference said in a statement. “According to the playing rules, blocking below the waist anywhere on the field by either team is illegal if the offense is lined up in a scrimmage kick formation, unless a kick is not made.”

Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott said that the officials recognized the mistake after the fact and apologized to the Virginia coaching staff. “We know mistakes are made in games, but we will not tolerate our officials misinterpreting the rules,” Scott said.

Quick hits

Tailback Marc Tyler gained only 67 yards in 18 carries against Virginia but remains the Pac-10 rushing leader, averaging 110.5 yards a game.... USC ranks ninth in the conference in total defense, allowing 464 yards a game. The Trojans are last in pass defense, giving up an average of 324.5 yards....USC is 4-1-1 against Minnesota. The Trojans defeated the Golden Gophers, 24-7, at Minnesota in the last game between the teams on Sept. 27, 1980…. USC resumes practice Tuesday after being off Monday. The Trojans depart for Minneapolis on Thursday after practice.