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IMHO Sunday: With love and credibility

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

In appreciation: Before we get into the gist of today’s musings, a very special Mother’s Day to all. Although my own mother, Anita, is no longer with us, I still have many wonderful and loving memories of her, especially when it comes to the Trojans. My Mom and her brother, USC grad Uncle Eddy, were naturally huge USC fans while my Dad and his brother, UCLA grad Uncle Jack, were obviously rabid Bruin fanatics. With a smile on my face, I can recall how my Mom would chide my Dad about the crosstown rivalry, especially with a big USC win in football. It made for great fun, and I am sure Mom is still reminding Dad in the big Coliseum in the sky that the Trojans have a current three-game winning streak. Love you, Mom!

Rush hour: Now, back to cardinal and gold business. You can get all warm and fuzzy or cold and jittery at the thought of Matt Fink, Jack Sears, or JT Daniels being the Trojans’ starting quarterback, but if they don’t have a supporting ground attack, whoever gets the snaps might become a moot offensive point. Clay Helton has promised the Trojans fanbase a consistent power running game, but it has been a struggle at times to do that in the manner that many USC fans have been accustomed. In the third season of the Helton era, the coach’s own credibility is now on the line. With a third strong recruiting class in a row, if a consistent power rushing attack doesn’t happen this season, when? No doubt, USC athletic director Lynn Swann, a former Hall of Fame Trojan and Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver with one of college and pro football’s most historically elite rushing programs, understands the running credibility issue.

Prove it: To eliminate the power running game skepticism, the Trojans will have to run the ball and do it with authority in 2018. Last season against elite defensive fronts of the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it was the same old song regarding the lack of a consistent physical rushing attack, the lack of blocking execution (AKA finishing), and the commitment and the attitude to move bodies. Watching a recent replay of the Cotton Bowl, it really brought to light – again – the stark difference between the USC offensive linemen and the Ohio State defensive linemen. Even months later, it’s not a pleasant sight to watch.

Credibility: Soon the 2018 season will be upon us, thus putting Clay Helton in the crosshairs of run-game credibility. No excuses this season. Trojan fans aren’t stupid when they see their heroes having difficulty rushing the ball in short-yardage situation or converting TDs by rush inside the 5-yard line. The great offensive teams pound it into the end zone. To be frank, it’s a true test of a team’s manliness. Ask Alabama about that.

Credibility – Part 2: There have been so many reports of who calls Trojans plays, especially when the inside word is not just one person but a trio of mentors. Obviously that can be problematic. It isn’t brain surgery to understand that in order to run the ball, you have to call running plays and be committed to it. Yes, at some level you do have to take what the defense gives you, but on another level you “will” your opponent into submission. During the John McKay and John Robinson’s first era, Trojan fans knew if the Men of Troy were gaining three yards on the ground in the first quarter, that number would escalate to five yards or more by the fourth quarter.

The upgrade: It’s rumored that this recruiting season the Trojans are making a concerted effort to recruit bigger and more physical offensive linemen who will elevate the ground game into a more physical philosophy.

History lesson: You might ask yourself where Clay Helton, whose father, Kim, is a former respected offensive line coach both in college and the NFL, has gotten much of his offensive philosophy? Well, use history as your guide. Helton was once a longtime USC assistant coach under Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, not exactly mentors when it comes to physical and running football. Helton, Kiffin, and Sarkisian are former quarterbacks and that can be problematic when it comes to a ground and pound commitment. Traditionally and naturally, former quarterbacks like to throw the ball more than they like to run the ball.

History lesson – Part 2: Look most all the previous USC national championships of the modern era and despite the greatness of the quarterbacking, national titles would never have been accomplished without an elite physical offensive line and stud running backs. There is no debate on this talking point – case closed. Just ask former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinart if he could have accomplished what he did at Troy without a dominant offensive line and a couple of running backs by the names of Reggie Bush and LenDale White.

From the press box…

The reality show: The last time the Trojans won a national championship was 2004, but before Trojans fans get too depressed by that thought, think about this: Notre Dame has not won a national championship since 1988. Now, did that make your Mother’s Day?

Beware: Nobody asked me, but a 2018 game to beware might be the Trojans’ Homecoming Game against Cal. Like it or night, the Golden Bears under second year head coach Justin Wilcox gave the Trojans a run for their money last season up in Berkeley and the second season of the Wilcox tenure could do the same this season in the Coliseum.

Pivotal game: If the Trojans are going to return to this season’s Pac-12 title game, they’ll have to obviously win the Pac-12 South Division. Standing in the way will be a very difficult game at Utah on October 20. If you remember the 2016 season, the No. 3 Trojans, under a budding Sam Darnold, lost to the No. 23 Utes, 31-27, in Salt Lake City, a game that hasn’t been forgotten by either side.

Trivia: So, the Trojans got a verbal commit last week from local Brethren Grace inside linebacker Stanley Taufoou, who is an exceptional CIF Division 8 talent. Taufoou reportedly had offers from UCLA, Utah, and Colorado, all Pac-12 South Division rivals of the Trojans. Okay, so CIF Division 8 isn’t Division 1 or the Trinity League for that matter. That being said, who was the last big time Trojan that came from a low-level CIF division school?

Another commit: The Trojans also received a verbal commitment last week from cornerback Trey Davis from Federal Way, Washington. This commit is interesting because Davis appears to be a very hidden nugget considering his other known offers were Portland State and Sacramento State. And there is no public evidence that the local Washington Huskies and head coach Chris Petersen were in on the kid. Don’t blame Trey for jumping at the offer; the one responsible for this DB verbal is Trojans secondary coach Ronnie Bradford. It will be interesting to see how this verbal plays out.

IMHO: History has shown us that an early Trojan verbal from less publicized players heading into their senior season doesn’t always translate into signing a letter of intent. The key is whether these lower profile players ink during the early signing period. When the big fish recruits come calling, the smaller minnows can be put out to the recruiting sea. Recruiting credibility then becomes an issue, and nobody is more protective of recruits than a player’s high school coach. Yes, college football is all about winning and millions are paid by storied programs to do so, but a high school coach considers himself a mother hen and protector of his players, and these devoted coaches don’t soon forget if they feel their “sons” get the recruiting shaft. These prep coaches can have future big fish recruits and sometimes what goes around, comes around. Beware.

The post-game show…

Trojans Huddle time: It’s that time of the year when the Trojans reach out to their important support groups and the public is invited. If it’s spring time, it’s again time for the football and basketball programs to generate interest and fundraising. Yep, it’s the annual Trojans Huddle programs. This cycle’s guest appearances include head football coach Clay Helton, head basketball Andy Enfield, former USC Hall of Fame football coach John Robinson, Student-Athletes and the Trojan Marching Band! It should be noted that only one of these events includes dinner (**). All Trojans Huddle event locations begin at 6 p.m. Below is a list of dates and locations. Party on!!!

Trojans Huddle time – Part 2: Tuesday, May 22 (**), in conjunction with the Trojan Clubs of the Beach Cities, Los Angeles, San Gabriel Valley, and San Fernando Valley/Ventura County. Location is the Town & Gown USC Campus and RSVP by May 15.

Trojans Huddle time – Part 3: Thursday, May 24, in conjunction with the Trojan Club of San Diego. Location is the La Jolla Country Club,7301 High Avenue,
La Jolla. RSVP 858.454.9601 and RSVP by May 17.

Trojans Huddle time – Part 4: Friday, June 1, in conjunction with the Trojan Club of the Desert. Location is the Indian Wells Country Club, 46000 Club Drive,
Indian Wells. RSVP 760.345.2561 and RSVP by May 25.

Trojans Huddle time – Part 5: Wednesday, June 6, in conjunction with the Trojan Club of Orange County. Location is the Balboa Bay Resort,1221 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach. RSVP 888.894.2788 and RSVP by May 30.

Trojans Huddle time – Part 6: Thursday, June 7, in conjunction with the Trojan Club of Northern California. Location is the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, 1800 Old Bayshore Highway, Burlingame. RSVP 650.692.9100 and RSVP by May 31.

Trojans Huddle time – Part 7: For more information regarding all Trojan Huddle events, call USC Athletics at 213.740.4155.

Strike up the band: The Trojans Marching Band is involved in some fundraising, and one gathering that looks interesting is the “Symphony of Cars” gala at Lacy Park in San Marino (1485 Virginia Rd.) on Saturday, June 9. Lacy Park is a wonderful and beautiful spot to hold such an event, and we’ve been there for some July 4th celebrations that were second to none. As for the “Symphony of Cars”, which is being presented by the San Marino Motor Class, the festivities being with cocktails at 6 p.m., the program at 7 p.m., and the dinner at 8 p.m. Cost is just $250.00 per person and also includes admission to Sunday’s San Marino Motor Classic. FYI, Saturday’s event is cocktail attire and valet parking is available.

Strike up the band – Part 2: To RSVP for the Trojan band fundraiser at Lacy Park: www.sanmarinomotorclassic.com/usc

The last word: And now the latest visual update on the Coliseum renovation: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation

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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