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WeAreSC Mailbag (10-25)



You hang around with other reporters and media types who cover USC football. Are the collective media becoming as cynical and frustrated in the same way that the general mood of this message board has become so cynical? I don’t see anyone in the media really challenging Coach Helton when he repeats the same platitudes about “going back and taking a look at the tape” or “we’re going to have to get this figured out”. Is the LA media soft? Are they afraid to ask the hard questions?

Thanks for all our hard work in covering the team.

First of all the collective media are always cynical, that’s pretty much a universal rule, and the current environment around USC certainly qualifies. One of the things we’ve seen happen this year with Coach Helton is that his “optimistic” spin has really gone into overdrive and he addressed that by saying he needs to present an optimistic message example for his team. However, I think one of the by-products is that his answers have started to feel less than genuine. He will get asked a legitimate question and he’ll frame it in a positive way but it may not answer the question, I think we’ve seen that too many times this fall. I get trying to keep things positive at times but there are also times to answer honestly.


My question is that, do you, in your opinion think that Clay thinks this team is okay and isn’t playing bad? I’ve heard on podcasts and read articles that they don’t know if Clay even realizes there is a problem. To me, if true, is the scariest part about all of this. I want him after a game to say, “We played like shit! I didn’t do a good job coaching and the rest of the staff failed as well.” He takes no accountability in my eyes. Thanks Garry.

I would think he understands that the team is not playing well because he talks a lot about understanding the expectations at USC, and if you’re at 4-3 you should know that’s not where you want to be. But I do think you’re right, I would love to have him just give a blunt assessment one of these days because the optimistic spin on everything these days can come across as somewhat off-the-mark.


Off the hot topics for a sec… Whatever happened to Tayler Katoa? He showed some promise early last year– haven’t heard one thing about him this year.

Tayler left on his Mormon mission prior to the season and is scheduled to return for the 2020 season.

Trojan Trev

Hi Garry-

What are the chances of Sears holding on to the starting job, IF he performs well against ASU? I think his mobility is just what we need, with our struggling O line, and he may be able to provide the spark that we need to get things going. He also has the San Clemente connection going for him too….thoughts?

For Jack’s sake I hope that shot is there but I also think this staff is “all-in” on J.T. Daniels so, barring any wild circumstance, I think they are going to look to get J.T. back in there as soon as possible.


Garry, who is calling the plays for the offense? Tee, Helton?
Fight On!

I would bet that there is a combination of Tee and Clay but so far the coaches are saying it’s all Tee.


Did Pat Haden make a mistake in keeping Lane Kiffin after the 2012 season? Lane probably had more of an excuse than the coaches who followed him because of the sanctions then in existence. But even so, it seemed clear after the Sun Bowl disaster (and his childish antics, of course) that there was no longer any support for him and he really needed to go. Yet Haden kept him, leading to the tarmac incident the following year. When it’s broken, and everybody knows it’s broken, isn’t waiting a disservice to the program? Don’t you have to pull the plug?

Yes, I agree 100%. So many people want to know what happened that year (to go from #1 to unranked) and I put the most blame on Kiffin, he choked the life out of the team. And by the end of the year it would have been justified to let him go, but Haden gave him a full show of support and then fired him four games later.


In my opinion, Sears was politicked down to 3rd string even though he was neck and neck with JT Daniels for the starting spot. Matt Fink they said was better suited because he knew the running game better. I called BS on that then and I still call BS on it today because USC never had a running game worth mentioning then and they still don’t have one today. Clay and Tee wanted to throw the ball all over the place with their new toy, JT Daniels. Now Sears gets tossed into the mix without the necessary reps because they went to Fink. This might come back to bite Clay in his butt. If Daniels can’t go then Clay’s only saving grace left is if Jack Sears the quintessential gamer can bang on the hood of this pathetic jalopy of an offense and just will it to victory.

Thanks Garry for taking my concern. Fight On, beat the Sun Devils!

Jack was my choice in camp if anyone was going to upset the coaches pick of J.T. but I don’t think he was quite neck and neck. I think Jack would have needed more scrimmage time to mount a real challenge but that didn’t happen, and now his time may come for his “gamer” qualities to come out.



More of a comment than a question. I think you and Darrell are on to something in your latest podcast. The QB competition went on too long, to the detriment of the run game. When you are evaluating 3 QBs, you don’t script plays to see how they hand off, you script them to see the passing game. As a result, the running game got short shrift. Please expound on this if you care to.

For the second time in three years I think Helton bent over backwards to make things seem “fair” in the quarterback battle when in reality the competition probably went on longer than it had to. And part of that unintended consequence is that you didn’t get to work on other areas as much as needed, particularly in scrimmages.


Does Coach Clay Helton and or staff read the wearesc message boards?

No. There is usually someone within the program who reads things and if they need to see it, they do, but they aren’t reading the sites on a regular basis.


Garry, please give your take on the offensive line. I remember going into the season the OL was a big question mark, but not necessarily for me. They have three seniors and the other two had experience too. Not in my wildest dreams did I think the O-line could be this bad. They seem like they either don’t know what to do, have no toughness or both. Is it coaching, or are they just not very good players?

Does it go without saying that Callaway will be replaced whether Helton stays or not?

The OL depth chart for next year looks scary. Looks to me like they need a minimum of 4 and at least 2 should be transfers. All the bets appear to be off as far as redshirting goes. Thoughts on OL recruiting?

Thanks Garry. I realize that I’ve asked several questions, but they’re only re: one issue. Fight On!!

You’re correct, on paper this should have made a pretty good line with how experienced this line was but it hasn’t really turned out that way. You mention the line next year and I think it has a chance to be pretty good with the personnel, and with the fact that I do expect Drevno to be coaching the line (that’s the rumor that continues to float around). I can see a scenario where all 5 members of the same recruiting class could end up starting (Jackson, Vera-Tucker, Neilon, Vorhees and McKenzie). The depth, on the other hand, is not good and I would love to see us get another 5 on the o-line, and right now we’ve only got Jason Rodriguez (a good one) and Geno Quinones (a converted d-lineman) so there is work to be done.


GarryP-where do we go from here?
What’s it going to take to restore the Trojans to glory?
Based on your conversations with alumni, past players, etc Complete housecleaning needed or some tweaks here and there and what needs to be done?

The biggest thing that I hear from former players is the need to return to our physical foundation of football, something that was part of the fabric for our program for so many years. We’ve seen an erosion in that foundation that started with Kiffin and the sanctions and has continued through the Helton era, with a few exceptions such as the first Stanford game last year and the UCLA game that basically got Clay hired.


So many pundits on this site speak very poorly of Kiffin and Sark but for one Kiffin hired Helton and Sark retained him..
Question in hindsight should SC have worked through Sarks personal issues and retained him as head coach rather than turning to Clay Helton .. I know it sounds stupid but to me Sark is a far more capable football man than Helton ..
I know you are privy to the inner workings of the program but from the outside of the three aforementioned coaches we have the least talented one in charge currently

Kiffin and Sark may each have their issues but both of them also have plenty of people who think they know some offensive football. Part of me will always wonder what would have happened if the drinking issue was not there with Sark because I sure was a big fan of his when he was an assistant on Pete’s staff, but unfortunately we’ll never know. I think the important thing for Clay being on both staff’s is that he was a really good assistant coach, he grew up in the house of a coach and he knew how to handle the role in support of the head coach.


Balance. Helton has achieved his prized goal of balance with 226 carries and 227 pass attempts through 7 games. And the Trojans now sport a “balanced” W-L record to boot. Were the Carroll teams balanced between run/pass? I’m guessing the Robinson teams were a lot more run-heavy, given the talent at RB. How much importance would you place on achieving balance on offense?

I understand balance is a good goal to keep the defense off-balance, but my bigger goal would be taking what the defense gives me. How can you know for certain what your best plan is going to be unless you know what kind of defense is being played? Unless of course you are just overwhelming dominant and could do what you want, like those Robinson teams that were built with the RB’s and OL as the rock stars of the team. The Carroll/Chow teams were great examples of taking what the defense gave them, you want some Leinart-BMW or some Reggie-LenDale, pick your poison.

Burak Uslu

Hi Garry,

Everything aside, when Kiffin came back as a head coach, one thing everyone raved about him was his hard work. He was known to work long hours and sometimes sleep in his office. Same can be said for Coach O. He was said to stay at Ramada across from the campus.

I am curious about how Helton ranks among Kiffin, O, or other coaches you know of. During his tenure at USC, did you pull out all-nighters? Most importantly, last two-three weeks, he has been emphasizing watching film. I am curious to know why is Helton taking practice time off to watch the film.

I hoping the seniors who rallied to keep interim Helton can still rally around.

Fight on.

Helton spends multiple nights a week in his office, it’s not a question of the effort the man puts in.


Talofa! my brother, Garry!

Thanks, brother, for all you do for us. And continue to put up with from us. Lol

Helton just doesn’t seem to think that there is a serious problem with the O-line as a whole. From the poor pass protection, to the non existing run game, to Toa’s snapping issues. My question is this….

Why hasn’t he pulled that trigger on Callaway? Drevno is already on staff and can take over now. I’m sure Helton can take over RB duties if need be. I think there are problems for this team overall don’t get me wrong. But, our line play is terrible. And they have been for the majority of games.

Thanks again Garry!

Remember that Neil Callaway is basically Uncle Neil to Clay, one of his dad’s oldest friends and coaching buddies. It would not surprise me at the end of this year if Callaway is allowed to gracefully retire, with Drevno moving down to take over the o-line.


As things become more challenging this year, Helton seems to be retreating into a world of thinking/analytics as many introverts are prone to do. How does this compare to the prior two years when things got tough?

I do think Clay has taken on more himself as things have gotten tough this year, he’s handling even some little details that he didn’t do himself not too long ago, things like holding up cards during some service team work.



Normally I wouldn’t ask a question this invasive, but are there any signs of anything different being done this week by either Martin or Callaway that indicate they’re trying to keep their job standing or any signs that replacements are being cultivated/searched for or promoted from within to those spots? Understand if you prefer not to reply out in the open on this. An more simpatico question; did any of the “film” studies on technique make their way to the practice field this week at any position?

I’ve got no problem replying because we aren’t really seeing much different. There are also unusual circumstances this week with the quarterback injury and that adds a different level to the planning this week but I don’t think we would have seen much different anyways.


Hi Garry:

I consider the SC program to be a finesse program at this point, which is a bit like being a finesse boxer….it aint gonna work. When the players are indicating that the practices need to be more intense (thanks Ced Ware), something is wrong. In the spirit of these statements, can you tell us how many days a week the team practices in full pads and how often full contact with actual tackling takes place in practice?

Tuesdays are usually full pad day, and for the most part we do one full contact drill of about 20 plays, and team drills on that day have contact but it’s not 100% full speed taking to the ground.

Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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