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Notes from Clay Helton post-Notre Dame media call

Here are the news and notes as Clay Helton reviewed what happened during Saturday night’s 30-27 loss to Notre Dame, including injury updates, how third-downs and explosive plays decided things, how USC can improve in areas that have caused problems all season, and what’s next for the Trojans as they look to improve on their 3-3 record.

  • Vavae Malepeai will undergo surgery on Tuesday to clean out the knee he injured against BYU. Helton said it has continued to swell to the point where it is too painful to continue playing through. There is no timetable at this point for his return.
  • Max Williams was held out of the Notre Dame game due to a team rule violation.
  • Palaie Gaoteote and Isaac Taylor-Stuart both suffered ankle sprains but were able to finish the game. Helton said they would see where both are at on Tuesday.
  • Greg Johnson suffered a shoulder injury and Olaijah Griffin suffered from back spasms. Again, we will get further updates following Tuesday’s practice.
  • Helton said the Notre Dame game came down to third-down conversions and explosive plays. Notre Dame got enough of both to come away with the win.
  • Helton said that the defense got itself in position to make one-on-one plays and wasn’t able to come up with them. He specifically mentioned the misdirection play that went for a 51-yard touchdown. Helton said the Trojans employ an attacking defense that can create a lot of negative yardage plays, but they have to be able to make the one-on-one plays, because it leaves a lot of defenders at one depth and breaking through that level can lead to big plays.
  • Helton again mentioned fundamentals, technique, and missing some assignments, as things that played a part in the loss. Asked how to get those things fixed halfway through the season, Helton said it’s just about position coaches focusing on their room and improving individual players. He mentioned Taylor-Stuart as a guy who is no longer making the same mistakes he did at the beginning of the season. In fact, Helton specifically praised defensive backs coach Greg Burns for the job he has done with that group, getting true freshmen Chris Steele, Max Williams and Kaulana Makaula ready to play, as well as getting improvement out of Olaijah Griffin and Taylor-Stuart.
  • Helton praised Graham Harrell for the halftime adjustments he made against the Notre Dame defense, and said being at USC, you have to assume that opposing defenses are going to throw things at you that they haven’t shown on tape before.
  • Helton said that keeping rush lanes will be important against Arizona’s Khalil Tate this weekend. They did not do that well enough against Notre Dame’s Ian Book, and he was able to escape potential sacks or create important runs on a number of occasions. Helton said that will be a focus this week for defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a.
  • As for Kedon Slovis, Helton said the true freshman did a wonderful job of not forcing things and following the script of playing a clean game. Helton said he did a great job not forcing throws, taking what was in the open windows and also extending plays with his legs.
  • Again, Helton mentioned that he likes the direction in which this team is headed. He said the Rose Bowl is still a realistic goal, and that when the season is finished, “We’ll add them all up in the end, and I’m betting this is going to be a really good football team that learns how to win.”


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Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.


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