12 min Read

IMHO Sunday: It takes players

Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.

A perspective: Trojans head coach Clay Helton doesn’t need me to be his personal public relations man or apologist, but IMHO the coach has taken some unwarranted criticism regarding the topic that Sam Darnold (photo above with Clay Helton) made the Trojans head football coach look like a better coach than he is. In truth, Darnold would make any coach look better than what he really is; Sam is that good and there is no argument there. Only the future will give proper scrutiny to the level of Clay Helton’s head coaching acumen. However, let’s give Helton credit for having the patience, fortitude and guts to insert Darnold in place of popular team captain Max Browne after the third game of what appeared to be a disastrous season waiting to happen. That move is also called coaching.

A perspective – Part 2: Many may disagree, but IMHO I believe Helton did the right thing how he handled the Max Browne starting nod to begin the season and then transitioning to Darnold. Even though I believe that Darnold was the better quarterback during spring and into fall practice, Browne had earned the opportunity to start for his longevity, loyalty, and we’re talking about the former High School Player of the Year. Let’s be honest, Browne nor Darnold could have beaten Alabama in the season opener and either QB could have blasted Utah State. It all got down to the Stanford game in Palo Alto. Browne couldn’t move the offense into the end zone and the decision to change quarterbacks after the 27-10 Stanford loss was a no-brainer. As for the “Darnold made Helton” assessment, as legendary Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz once said, “It’s not about the X’s and the O’s, but the Billys and the Joes.” And Darnold is probably Billy and Joe combined.

A perspective – Part 3: I am not saying that Clay Helton even remotely approaches the accomplishments of Pete Carroll, but how much better coach did Carroll look like with Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at quarterback and ex-Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush at tailback? How many games would Carroll have lost without Bush in the backfield in No. 5’s final season, or have you forgotten the 2005 Notre Dame and Fresno State games?  How much better coach did John McKay look with Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Clarence Davis and Anthony Davis, and Ricky Bell at Tailback U.? Yes, one player can turn a team around. And how much better coach did John Robinson look with Charles White and Marcus Allen at tailback? It starts first with recruiting and Helton recruited Sam Darnold. It all begins with recruiting.

A perspective – Part 4: We can all agree that Clay Helton made some mistakes during the season, and he would be the first to tell you he learned from them. After all, he was just a first-year head coach. It has been said here many times that the storied USC football program should not be a head coaching training ground, but former A.D. Pat Haden selected the likeable coach, and all Helton did this season was guide his team into the Rose Bowl and a dramatic victory to boot. It says here that counts for something. I am not predicting Helton is the next John McKay or Pete Carroll or even close to it, but the Silver Fox and Coach Charisma never led the Trojans to the Rose Bowl until their third season. In his first season as the fulltime USC head football coach, Clay Helton’s team won 10 games, finished on a nine-game winning streak, won arguably the best Rose Bowl ever played, and laid what appears to be the groundwork for future success.

OL makeover: Some of the excitement of the afterglow of the Rose Bowl has now given way to a reality check for highly anticipated 2017 season. With the announcement that 60 percent of the Trojans starting offensive line will be gone to the NFL (All-America tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler, and second-team All-Pac-12 guard Damien Mama), Clay Helton and his offensive line coach, Neil Callaway, will have some work to do come spring ball. Last spring, the main concern was the defensive line, and this spring scrutiny will focus on a rebuilding of the Trojans offensive line.

OL makeover – Part 2: So, what might the offensive line look like in 2017? At the outset, the best guess here is that right tackle Banner will initially be replaced by sophomore Chuma Edoga, left tackle Wheeler replaced by junior Toa Lobendahn, and left guard Mama replaced by sophomore backup Chris Brown. The good news? Edoga, Lobendahn, and Brown all have starting experience. Junior Viane Talamaivao should return for his senior season at right guard, and underpublicized junior Nico Falah figures to return at center.

OL makeover – Part 3: Although the Trojans have a solid offensive line foundation of commitments for the recruiting class of 2017, the departure of Mama puts even greater emphasis on the recruitment of more offensive linemen, specifically Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco guard Wyatt Davis, who is currently committed to Ohio State, and North Canyon (Phoenix, Az.) tackle Austin Jackson, both of whom played in Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Game. I think the more realistic recruiting prognostication would be the arrival of Jackson to USC. The sense here is that while Davis has taken another look at the Trojans, when it’s all said and done he will remain a Buckeye.

Tackle the problem: With the Trojans in need of help at both offensive tackle positions in 2017, it was unfortunate to learn that Trojans offensive lineman Jordan Simmons, whose career was beset with injuries, was denied a 6th season of eligibility, according to a Simmons’ tweet. This is a critical ruling with the Trojans losing three offensive line starters coupled with the early season loss of true freshman tackle E.J. Price, who left the program to return to Georgia.

So long, No. 9: To the shock of nobody, junior wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will enter the 2017 NFL draft. Announcing through his social media site on Saturday, JuJu goes out a Rose Bowl winner and will always be remembered for not only for outstanding catches, but his will to play in pain and competitive nature. We wish him nothing but the best, as we do Mama, in the upcoming NFL draft and beyond. Now the question: With JuJu and Damien Mama gone, is Adoree’ Jackson next?

The historian: Hall of Fame writer and USC football historian Steve Bisheff told me after the Rose Bowl that he believes that the 2017 Rose Bowl Game was the greatest Rose Bowl Game he has ever seen, and “Bish” has seen them all through the decades.

Emotional recall: I can’t recall a more emotional and tearful USC football scene than the one I saw on the field and in the locker room after the Trojans surrealistic 52-49 victory over Penn State.

Ratings spectacular: The 2017 Rose Bowl Game between the Trojans and Penn State generated an overnight rating of 9.4 on ESPN, up 19 percent from last year’s Rose Bowl. Streaming of the game added an average minute audience of 300,000 viewers with 1,103,000 unique viewers watching a total of 75,989,000 minutes, making it by far the best overnight and most-streamed non-semifinal New Year’s Six game ever (12 games in three years).

Rosy hoops celebration: At halftime of tonight’s Trojans men’s Pac-12 basketball game against the Cal Bears at the Galen Center, the Rose Bowl champion Trojans football team will be introduced on the court. Fans in attendance will also get an opportunity to have their picture taken with the Leishman Trophy (Rose Bowl winner’s trophy) in the Hall of Fame from 6-7 p.m. Tip-off for this evening’s game is 7 p.m.

From the press box…

Bubba: Trojans fans can take a breath of relief that Prep All-America safety Bubba Bolden (Las Vegas Bishop Gorman) announced for the Trojans during Saturday’s U.S. Army All-America Game in San Antonio. Besides being a big hitter and an outstanding player, he comes from a major national powerhouse prep program, which didn’t lose a football game the past three seasons of Bubba’s career. Can you say winner?

The switch: According to a Saturday ESPN tweet by writer Max Olson, “New UCLA commit Darnay Holmes, an ESPN 300 CB, told me he was a silent commit to USC earlier this week and also silently committed to Ohio State earlier in the recruiting process.”

The smilers: Nobody inside the Trojans’ athletic department can be any happier with how the season and Rose Bowl turned out than the marketing and ticket departments. Boy, do they have something to sell for 2017. It will be interesting to see how aggressive these two university entities aggressively market next season’s Trojans to the public.

It’s history to boot: Matt Boermeester’s game-winning field goal to defeat Penn State in the Rose Bowl was the fourth USC walk-off winning field goal in Trojans history.

Penalty box: Not unexpected, but Trojans linebacker Cameron Smith will be held out of the first half of next season’s opener against Western Michigan for being ejected in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl for “targeting.” What makes this so shocking is not the penalty, but it seemed so out of character for a controlled player like Cam to get a “targeting” call.

All-Bowl: The Associated Press named its All-Bowl team and Trojans selected to the first team were quarterback Sam Darnold, wide receiver Deontay Burnett, and safety Leon McQuay lll. Named to the AP honorable mention team were tackle Zach Banner and placekicker Matt Boermeester.

Say what: I get having an AP All-Bowl team, but how do you justify not having Trojans nose tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, who just happens to be the Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game, on the bowl team?

The post-game show…

A first: Trojans redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold was named this past week as the winner of the 2016 Archie Griffin Award, presented by the Touchdown Club of Columbus to college football’s season-long most valuable player as determined at the conclusion of the bowl season. Sam will receive the award football during the 62nd Touchdown Club of Columbus Awards on Feb. 4 at Express Live! in Columbus, Ohio. The Darnold family better start building some new shelving at home because this is just of the first of many national awards in No. 14’s future.

First up – Part 2: Sam Darnold is the first freshman to win the Griffin Award since it was first presented in 1999. He is the second Trojan recipient, as quarterback Matt Leinart won the Archie Griffin Award in 2003 and 2004. And to think that as a youngster, Sam Darnold wore a No. 11 USC kid’s jersey in honor of Leinart.

The footsteps: Last season’s winner of the Archie Griffin Award was current Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who will lead his team against Alabama on Monday night for the CFP National Championship.

Buy now: It seemed to take just minutes after the Trojans beat Penn State that an email went out inviting USC fans to purchase their Rose Bowl Champions T-shirt and hat.

The winning DVD: You can bet that a large number of Trojans fans will purchase the Rose Bowl Game DVD after the dramatic win over Penn State. Prior to game, there was an announcement that there would be a presale DVD of the 2017 Rose Bowl. Who would buy one given the fact one couldn’t predict a Trojans victory? However, one converted field goal on the final play of the game changed that whole thought process.

Helton happy: This past week, Trojans quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Tyson Helton earned Football Scoop’s Quarterbacks Coach of the Year Award. A finalist for the award last season while at Western Kentucky, all it took was a little bit of Sam Darnold to get over the hump.

Canton calling: Although it seems like just a mere formality, former Trojans All-America offensive tackle Tony Boselli is one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now really, is there anybody who doesn’t think Tony the Tiger won’t get into the HOF either on the first ballot or the next one to follow?

The Final Call-In Show numbers…

The comparison: In 2016, the Trojans finished the season 10-3. In 2015, the Trojans finished 8-6. It should be noted that the reason for one more game in 2015 was the Pac-12 Championship game between the regular and bowl season.

About the same: The Trojans averaged 34.4 points per game in 2016. In 2015, the Trojans averaged 33.9 points per game.

A little less: The Trojans defense allowed 24.2 points per game in 2016. In 2015, the Trojans allowed 25.7 points per game.

A solid increase: The Trojans averaged 477.1 total offense in 2016. In 2015, the Trojans averaged 437.9 yards in total offense per game.

A healthy difference: In 2016, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 367.2 total offensive yards per game. In 2015, the Trojans allowed 400.8 yards per game.

Making progress: In 2016, the Trojans rushed for an average of 200.7 yards per game. In 2015, the Trojans averaged 168.2 rushing yards per game.

A reduction: In 2016, the Trojans defense allowed 139.6 net yards rushing per game. In 2015, the Trojans allowed 169.3 net rushing yards per game.

Slightly better: In 2016, the Trojans passed for 276.4 yards per game. In 2015, the Trojans averaged 269.7 passing yards per game.

The right direction: In 2016, the Trojans defense allowed 227.5 passing yards per game. In 2015, the Trojans allowed 251.5 passing yards per game.

Still flagging: In 2016, the Trojans were penalized 67.2 yards per game. In 2015, the Trojans averaged 68.6 yards per game.

The last word: Okay, I’ll man up and predict that Clemson will upset Alabama on Monday night because Clemson will score more points, thanks to tremendous quarterback Deshaun Watson who should outplay Alabama’s true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. If Hurts can outplay Watson, I am already calling the CFP title game rigged.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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