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WeAreSC Mailbag (10-26)

Trojan War Machine

What do you guys think would be better, hard, tough practices, done at as near game speed as possible with live tackling, then going with who you have on Saturday, or walk throughs, easier practices with no tackling and no where near game speed, but your guys are more rested and maybe a few more come through uninjured? I know there is probably a happy medium, but is it too late, since they missed their chance a a really tough last couple weeks of off-season practices in order to coast and get “healthier”? Now that we are deep into the season is it too late to work on tackling and blocking at near full speed, or are our coaches more afraid of injuries than losses????

If you’re talking about the overall toughness level of the program then obviously you are talking something closer to option #1. You just hear too many former players talk about how there is no substitute for live tackling in practice to help prepare you for live tackling in games. Sure there are some lesser contact drills here and there that can help simulate but for the type of fundamental tough style of play that USC has long been known for, you simply have to have some hard tackling as part of your routine.



I’m intrigued by C Helton’s following comment:

“…Like I told them in our team meeting, it’s the little things that I thought added up to physical beats, and we’ve got to get those little things right, whether it’s the exact correct step, whether it’s the exact correct hand placement, whether it’s lower pad level, those are all things that help you win one-on-one battles at the o-line. I’m an o-line coaches’ son by trade so I have a tendency to watch that film a little bit tighter.”

My question is: we are 8 games into the season, doesn’t this comment demonstrate that the coaching staff has done a poor job of “teaching” these fundamental techniques? In other words, while coaching is not a stagnant process, wouldn’t you think this would be taught “before” key matchups?

I hear what you’re saying but I think there is a little bit of context in those comments specifically toward the freshmen, Helton had talked earlier about part of the problem with the line being that they have young guys learning on the job and many of the technique issues were due to that inexperience. I liked what Khaled Holmes talked about today in our story with him, he said there are things that can be done such as committing to the run early which can help the young guys get into a rhythm with run blocking. I also think anything that can be done to get that overall spirit and passion going (as opposed to last week) is just as important as a specific technique here and there.


This season is starting to eerily mirror the 2012 debacle: USC starts the season with too high a ranking after a fantastic performance to finish the previous year; Heisman hopeful at QB; HC not emphasizing physicality in practice; Not playing well but still sporting a 6-1 record…then the wheels fell off in Arizona. What is different about this year’s team?

Hard to answer that yet because we don’t know how they will respond during this stretch. But I agree that, to this point, there are definitely similarities.



Clay Helton has been at USC since 2010. He has spent the better part of the past decade working for a team in sanctions mode, trying to avoid injuries year round at all costs.

In all seriousness, is it possible he may have simply forgotten how to properly coach physicality over the years? In my own profession, I doubt I could ever catch up if I had been stuck in a 7 year purgatory for an important element of my job.

I do think there’s merit to the sanctions having an impact on his approach. Those were a lot of years of erring on the side of caution, and for good reason. This year I think the extra week of fall camp played into the thinking as well. Whatever it is, the impact of what Trojan fans saw against Notre Dame will not soon be forgotten because it struck at the heart of what the USC program has represented for so many years, and it’s something that Helton needs to meet head on.


I know it was mentioned that Amon-Ra St. Brown and Solomon Tuliapupu were at the Notre Dame game. I assume they were hosted by Notre Dame? Both of them are still non-committed, but also still considering SC. Has anyone reached out to either of them since the game. JT Daniels (USC 2019 commit) is Amon-Ra’s quarterback and I heard Palaie Gaotete since committing has been trying to also recruit Solomon to SC. I hope the one bad game does not influence their decision, although Equinox, big brother to Amon-Ra will have his own opinions. I also hope we still have shots for both of them as we need more physical linebackers and bigger receivers. I also hope JT and Palaie stay committed. It is a small football community in southern California. Any updates would be greatly appreciated. We need another great recruiting year!
Fight On!

Yes, both players were on official visits to Notre Dame.

With Amon-Ra, it’s going to come down to his best shot at early playing time. SC has gained a lot of ground with him since spring, to the point where the Trojans are considered the favorite by many to land him, and one game didn’t change that (even with his brother Equanimeous scoring a touchdown). But with both players it will be important to finish out the season strong because playing solid football is still a big part of the equation. Solomon liked what he saw at Notre Dame and I can see them in his final mix but I still think SC is the team to beat, and getting Solo and Palaie as a physical duo to lead the linebacker group is as important as anything in this recruiting class.


During the offseason the staff may a systematic search to fill a void at RB coach and came away with a successful hire in Deland McCullough.

Does HCCH have it in him to remove someone from the staff and repeat this process?

I think there’s a chance we will find out, whether Helton voluntarily makes some changes or is directed to do it. What will be interesting to watch if it happens is that the staff is made up of a lot of coaches that he is close to, and that familiarity was a part of why they are on the staff in the first place. We’ve seen him genuinely struggle with decisions involving those he doesn’t want to hurt (Max Browne) but it’s a reality of the job sometimes when you’re sitting in the big chair.


Any meaningful guys returning from the injured list this week?

By all accounts it looks like Chuma will be back. His ankle should be ready to go but he is dealing with a stomach guy that is going around the team. Porter Gustin will test change of direction movements today to see if he can go on Saturday.


As has been stated so many times, Coach Helton wants a more physical run first approach. Given his dealt hand with injuries and left with a less experienced and physical OL, shouldn’t he change his strategy? Maybe more finesse and putting the QB under center with a pitch outside where the tail back doesn’t have to run 7 yards before getting to the line of scrimmage. Maybe an under center drop back to a screen pass. His consistent use of the shotgun formation doesn’t give us as many options to counteract the ears-pinned-back rush of the opponents DL.

Yes, things are out of synch with the physicality in the run game, from injuries to play calls, and it just isn’t happening now. We talked earlier about getting the commitment to the run game started right away, and there are also things like going under center, using a fullback, two tight ends, etc.


Last weekend was so awful I don’t know where to start! How about, by Thursday you should have a feel on the mental state of the team. As Yogi observed, “90% of this game is mental, the other half is physical!” ASU seems to be trending up, USC down. The only thing that can change that is a belief in themselves that they can win. As best as you can tell, what’s the mental state of this team?

Darrell Rideaux and I discussed this topic last night in our video and I think Darrell’s perspective as a former player is pretty insightful
: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxULMjbr6xA


Hi Garry — I think a lot of people are getting frustrated from the perceived lack of acknowledgement from Coach Helton that there may be something wrong with the team and/or Coach Martin’s comments that he thinks the team is getting better each week.

Whats has the tone been like at practice this week compared to the rest of the season? Has anything changed from what you can tell or is it business as usual? How have the coaches been handling this week and what have they been saying?

It’s very much been a business as usual atmosphere, which isn’t what those who are frustrated are wanting to hear. The only measuring stick will come on Saturday, and the rest of the season. If the team finishes strong then Helton can point to the importance of staying the course (he talked yesterday about not throwing out the plan simply because of one bad loss). But if things don’t turnaround, and November doesn’t go as planned, then Helton and staff certainly have opened themselves up to criticism, and evaluation.

Trojan Trev

Hi Gary-

Will we win?

I’m sorry Trojan Trev, I’m loyal to HoT on the “Will we win” questions (and we’re going to sit on our long streak for a while)


Two years ago, when Clay was hired, he said his goal was to establish a old-school, physical football team. I’m curious if you think the program has made progress in that area over the last two years. And what, if anything, do you think Clay and his staff should be doing differently to accomplish Clay’s own objective.

No. I think it’s one of the biggest disconnects between what he preached when he was hired and what we’ve seen on the field. As far as what could be done different, it starts with the mindset and there are things such as using a fullback, two-back sets or I formation, multiple tight end sets, etc. I also think there needs to be a clear voice in the play calling, right now I think we have too many chefs in the kitchen.


Many of this board’s members have called for the HC’s head as well as his coaching staff. What would it take to accomplish such a move? Is it AD’s job to make that call? What I’m asking is the mechanism that would make a change?

That is the athletic director’s call to make.


Intensity and accountability.

Hi Gary,
I think there are two huge pieces missing from our team. Intensity and Accountability.

The only game the team has brought intensity from the get go was against Stanford. The rest of the games seem like the team is just way too laid back and only turn it on when they fall behind. They’ve managed to pull out most games but clearly when playing teams determined to kick us in the teeth (WSU and ND) we fell short. I feel like this is a reflection of the coaching staff. I’m not calling for Helton’s head, just seeing a correlation between the two.

The other thing that’s bothering me is the lack of accountability. Coach Helton is un wanting or unwilling to hold ANYONE accountable for poor coaching (T Martin) to poor performances (chose any player minus Vaughns form the ND game). Clearly I don’t go to practice so for all I know people are running laps till they puke for mistakes but I seriously doubt it.

Can you share your thoughts on these two points?

I think we’ve addressed the intensity topic in a few of the earlier answers in this mailbag. In my opinion, the intensity/toughness issue is as big as anything right now as the team finishes the season, and I agree that how they respond will reflect on the coaches. I can tell you one person who is holding accountability for the coaches right now is Lynn Swann.


In the two losses this season, our TEs as a group had ZERO receptions. Granted, Daniel was coming off injury vs. WSU, but why is there so much inconsistency in targeting the TEs from game to game, and especially in tough away games when the TE can be Sam’s escape valve?

One of the things that made our offense so effective last season was Sam’s ability to spread the ball around, including to his TEs. Both Tyler and Josh have been making a positive impact this season, and Daniel must be getting close to game shape by now. Against a pressing D, I can’t fathom why they were not part of the passing attack last Saturday.

I think that’s an important stat to show how important a tight end can be (especially when the offense is having trouble getting a rhythm) but the match-up just didn’t work against ND. Like you, I’ve actually been fairly pleased with the overall TE results when you consider that Daniel simply hasn’t played the role we thought he would, due to injuries. Yes, he’s back now but obviously is still working back into playing shape, important to remember that he has basically been inactive since June. I really think his absence has been as big of a problem for the offense as anything, in large part because of the chemistry and trust Sam has with him.

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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