The USC Trojans won’t have much time to regroup following Saturday’s overtime loss to BYU, as the Utah Utes are headed to town on Friday, looking for their first-ever win in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
With the Trojans’ schedule bumped up a day due to the Friday night game this week, head coach Clay Helton spoke to the media following Monday’s practice and was upbeat about what he saw.
“Great attitude by the kids,” Helton said of practice. “I love how they jumped right back out here, jumped right back to work, and looking forward to the next opportunity to compete against a very good Utah football team.”
Helton, offensive line coach Tim Drevno, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell (photo above), and running back Vavae Malepeai all either explicitly stated or made reference to the fact that this would be — just like BYU — a game won in the trenches.
“I told our guys in the team meeting right off the bat, I think this is going to be a big man’s game,” Helton said. “Whoever controls the offensive and defensive fronts will win the game…It will be a great challenge for our offensive line.”
It was a USC offensive line that did have some success against a BYU defensive line that featured a three-down lineman look almost exclusively, but there wasn’t enough sustained success in either the running or passing game for USC to get its offense in rhythm for a full 60 minutes. Still, Helton was pleased with the overall performance.
“I thought they played well again on Saturday,” Helton said of his offensive line. “Overall, I think they’re doing a nice job. They weren’t really challenged a lot in the pass rush the last game. For the run game, I thought they held serve — 172 yards on the day — I thought they did a nice job.”
As for the three-man front and eight defenders dropped into zone coverage for most of the game, Harrell said it was very much what USC expected to see.
“We knew they were probably going to drop eight,” Harrell said. “We knew going in we needed to run the ball well; we needed to be physical. I thought they did a really good job, honestly, of being physical. They deserve a lot of credit for that. If you’re only going to have three down there, they’ve got to do a really good job of holding points. If you go back and watch on the plays where we had good runs, we usually moved the d-linemen. On the plays where we struggled, the d-linemen held their own. You have to give them credit.”
Harrell said the BYU plan never wavered, and that the Cougars “did the exact same thing almost every snap the entire game.”
And as far as upcoming opponents using the same game plan against the Trojans, Harrell said it all comes down to the offensive line being able to dominate up front. He also acknowledged that this USC offense doesn’t see that type of defense a lot during practice, so the more quarterback Kedon Slovis sees it, the more comfortable he’ll become working against it.
“At times I thought we did a really good job executing, and at times you have to give them credit,” Harrell said of BYU. “They held their own and forced us into tough situations. It was just a battle and they made one more play than we did.”
As for the game on Friday, Utah will field a defensive line that is better than BYU’s across the board, so the Trojans will need to be sharp up front. Helton said he sees some similarities between his defensive line and the Utes’ in the way both try to get upfield and play across the line of scrimmage.
“One of the things they do is they set up tackles for loss by getting penetration,” Helton said. “They’re a team that really plays on an edge and gets upfield and gets into the backfield.”
Helton referred to this Utah team as the most complete Utah team he will have faced during his time at USC, and that running back Zack Moss is a special player.
Harrell calling plays
After some internet chatter about Helton taking over playcalling duties or having input on the calls during the BYU game, Harrell was asked about that following Monday’s practice.
“I called ’em all,” Harrell said of who was responsible for the offensive playcalling against the Cougars.
Harrell said that Helton is a part of the offensive game planning during the week, sitting in on meetings and being around as the plan is put in place. But during games, Helton leaves Harrell on his own.
“He made it clear that he would let me just call it,” Harrell said. “When it comes to game day, he lets us do our thing and lets us try to go execute and play fast.”
Bru gets back on the field
Monday marked the long-awaited debut of wide receiver Bru McCoy on the USC practice field. McCoy did not wear pads, but he did go through warmup lines and Helton said he was able to catch some balls as well.
McCoy originally signed with USC in the 2019 recruiting class, but transferred to Texas shortly after enrolling at USC. McCoy then transferred back to USC, which was a huge win for the Trojans, as he is a five-star talent. But McCoy was hit with a series of fevers and health issues that have thus far been undiagnosed publicly.
Helton was obviously pleased that McCoy was able to take another step toward getting back with the team, although the head coach was evasive when asked whether USC had filed a waiver with the NCAA to seek immediate eligibility for McCoy. At this point, it appears as though USC won’t look for that in the immediate future, and will allow McCoy to progress slowly back toward playing footblal again.
“Good to get him back and get him started,” Helton said. “He’s a long way off from where he needs to be.”
Helton said McCoy was able to participate in the beginning of practice and then go to the weight room for some strength and conditioning, before returning for the end of practice. Helton was pleased that McCoy would “have the opportunity to come out here and be around the guys,” but added that it was “just the beginning.”
Defensive end Christian Rector returned to practice today after sitting out the BYU game. Helton said Rector “looked a lot better.”
Cornerback Greg Johnson and offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees both sat out practice. Johnson is in concussion protocol following a hit that knocked him out of the BYU game. Vorhees continues to have a foot issue and Helton said there is no timetable for his return.
Players also sitting out today’s practice included linebackers Eli’jah Winston and Malik McClain, defensive lineman Jacob Lichtenstein, offensive linemen Liam Jimmons, Clayton Bradley, and Bernard Schirmer, and defensive tackle De’jon Benton.