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WeAreSC Mailbag

WeAreSC readers had plenty of questions this week, as a loss to BYU brought out questions on scheme, strategy, and performance. Readers were also curious about a potential Utah performance, as well as the status of head coach Clay Helton moving forward.


Q: Slovis has shown that he can fling the ball on short to mid-range passes and that he has enough awareness to leave the pocket when it’s collapsing and (sometimes) make plays. Some have compared him to Darnold, which unfortunately includes Kedon’s propensity to force plays and turn the ball over, but some have noted that —talented as Kedon might be — he doesn’t have the raw talents/instincts/abilities that Sam had.

What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think the Darnold comparison has more to do with them both being USC quarterbacks than Slovis’ game really mirroring Darnold’s. Slovis isn’t a post, but he isn’t the athlete that Darnold is and I don’t think we’ll ever see him create space in and out of the pocket to make plays the way Darnold did. I don’t think Kedon is trying to force balls anywhere right now. I think he’s just making wrong reads or locking in on guys. That’s different than seeing a risky play and going for it because you believe you can get the ball there.


Q: I thought one of the advantages of the Air Raid was running more plays and doing it quickly?

Why is the offense at the line of scrimmage staring at the sidelines? There was some speculation it was because Clay was changing Harrell’s play call. In any case, it looks like last year’s offense.

A: I don’t believe that Helton is changing the play call. My read on that was that they wanted to get the defense set and then get a play call sent down for the offense to run. I do agree that it feels odd for coaches to say that they want to get 85-90 plays off and go fast all the time, and then have stretches where they’re slowing down that much. But they were also dealing with a true freshman quarterback in his first road game, so working a little more deliberately on occasion could be understandable.

Q: If the defense drops 8 and takes away the short routes, why didn’t we try some double moves and go deep — presumably to grass — with St Brown or Jones?

A: I’m not sure why there was some hesitancy to take some deep shots. Obviously the deep ball to Erik Krommenhoek was a busted coverage by BYU, but you can’t force those kinds of mistakes without taking your shots. We saw what happened when they threw one up for Pittman for the touchdown, and went deep to him again late, when he got flagged for a ludicrous offensive pass interference call.


Q: Questions about our RBs. Has the way the first three games have gone changed your view on what the pecking order should be? Personally, I’d love to see Stepp get 20+ carries a game as I think he would wear down opposing defenses by the second half. Is he that much of a liability on pass protection that he isn’t seeing more action? And what was up with Carr? He looked great vs. Stanford but seemed out of sorts vs. BYU.

A: The only reason I can imagine that Stepp isn’t playing more than the other two is that the coaches simply have more trust in Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr in all facets. And that’s understandable, given their experience. But if I had to guess, I’d say opposing defenses would rather see those two in the backfield than Stepp.

I agree that Carr looked a little off against BYU. No injury update from Helton on him, and he’ll be one of the guys to focus on against Utah.


Q: Vegas had USC -4 against BYU. BYU covered the spread. Vegas does give do overs by those teams who give up ten points with two turnovers. Do you think we win that game without the first two interceptions?

A: I do. The 10 points was obviously huge, but getting the crowd and BYU into it that early allowed them to carry momentum all the way through.


Q: What exactly is Dave Campo’s role? I see he is listed as a consultant, but can he actually coach?

I just see a guy that was a part of some Super Bowl defenses in Dallas trying to help out and I am wondering how much help he is allowed to give and how much of his help is accepted.

A: Dave Campo is a defensive analyst, which basically means he can coach the coaches. He is not able to give any on-field instruction directly to players. Analysts work mostly as advanced scouts, breaking down film of upcoming opponents, figuring out tendencies or personnel preferences, or anything that can help a coach put together a game plan. Here is an interesting story that goes into some depth about what an analyst is able to do.

Gold Trojan

Q: Pass rush???

I am not unhappy with our guys right up the gut, but our edge guys are totally absent.

Will we see some twists, stunts, delayed blitzing? What about personnel and or position changes?

A: One thing we know about defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is that he likes the defensive line to be gap sound. Stunts and twists can work, but they can also open up huge holes in the middle of your defense if you get caught in one against the wrong play. He’s trying to let guys win one-on-one matchups, and the players aren’t always doing that. I don’t think we’re ever going to see a wholesale change from Pendergast, but I do think they’ll start to show a few wrinkles moving forward.


Q: Erik, So many guys have left this program and have gone on to do better. Will Devon Williams be the next. I told you so?

Caleb Wilson UCLA ( All Pac 12 /drafted by Arizona Cardinals)
Coach O (LSU 28-9) 3-0 #4 ranked team in 2019
Wole Betiku Illinois (6 sacks, Leads the Nation)
Travon Sidney Illinois (10 catches for 73 yards 1 Td)
John Imatorbhebhe ( 10 catches 167 yards 3 Td’s)
Kenny Bigelow WVU (NFL tryout with the Saints)
Jordan Simmons (Started 3 games for the Seattle Seahawks, couldn’t get on the field @ USC)
Devin Williams? (Its been rumored that Devin Williams is being recruited by Pac -12 schools and he has visited at least one)
Jack Sears ? (Could have used a older Duel threat QB last game)

A: There are probably more guys who have left the program and not done better, but it definitely gets some attention when it seems like they’re being told they’ll never play football while at USC and then they find a home elsewhere and succeed. I think part of it is the fact that they’re older when they land somewhere else. Some guys need 3-4 years to get to a point where they can contribute, and I think some guys just do better in different schemes and situations. I think it’s probably unfair to label Devon Williams as a miss by USC, because if he does well somewhere next year, I think he would have done well at USC by getting in whatever reps he could get this year and working for a starting spot next year.


Q: Fourth quarter:
We kick a 52 yard field goal to tie the game…our fans and team are pumped!
Our defense is pumped also and forces them to punt and we have a first and 10 at the 19 with 41 seconds left to get into field goal range or score a TD.

What do we do?…..NOTHING!

Was I the only one that felt that we totally whimped out?

Maybe with 11 seconds on the clock you fold and play it safe, but not with 41 seconds. In a supposed ”Washington State” type offense, 41 seconds is a long time!

Erik, am I off base thinking that we looked afraid and had no confidence in our men on the field?

I’m tired of the what if’s! After last years complete collapse during the second half of six games, this team needs to strike while the iron is hot and start thinking and playing like winners!

Your thoughts?

A: USC actually did try to hit Michael Pittman deep on the first play of that drive and he was called for offensive pass interference, on legitimately one of the most confusing calls I’ve ever seen. So I credit them for taking that deep shot. After that, I think some criticism is warranted though. They got a big run from Vavae Malepeai to make it a second and four and then they let the clock run all the way down to 15 seconds before getting off another run play, which lost five yards and left just six seconds on the clock when BYU called a timeout. You can either go for the win or just try to run the clock out in that situation and it felt like USC didn’t really know which one it wanted to do.


Q: Through 3 games, it seems like Slovis does not get a lot a pressure from the outside pass rush, so OTs Richmond and A. Jackson must be doing a good job. However, it does seem like he is forced outside or into scrambles by inside pressure.

What’s your assessment of the offensive line play so far?

A: I think it’s been better than what we thought it would be heading into the season, but not great. It’s been serviceable, but not a strength. The real answer is coming during the Utah game though. This is the biggest test they’ll face all season.


Q: How is the practice schedule for the short week?

Leinart seemed to sense some urgency and fire in practice this week in his visit. Have you seen any indication this team will take the BYU loss as motivation, or is there more a sense of desperation?

Have you seen anything from Harrell’s disposition that indicates he’s going to rise to the challenge after last week’s setback?

What is the status of the OL starters that started the Stanford game (injuries, etc)?

A: USC practiced on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, instead of the regular Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

This team doesn’t seem to get too high or too low about anything. I don’t know if that’s entirely a good thing. But they’re definitely ready to play Utah. They know how important this game is.

Harrell is completely confident in his ability as an offensive coordinator. He comes off as pretty even-keeled about everything, so I think he’ll approach this as any other game.

Andrew Vorhees is still out but the starting offensive line will be the same.


Q: What’s the story with Griffiths? The comments out of Fall camp were almost universal that he would be a real special teams difference maker routinely hitting 60 yard punts and also able to pin with accuracy. Instead we have 9 punts for a 38 yd avg and a long of 51. And when we critically needed a flip of the field late in the 4th quarter from our own 15, he gives us a 37 yard dud that BYU quickly turns into the go ahead touchdown.

A: The explanation so far is that he isn’t allowing returns and he’s generally making opponents start from inside their 20-yard line. I think he’s capable of doing more than he’s shown so far.


Q: This has been asked earlier, but do you think Clay will survive the season given his contract size with the understanding that he will lose his job at season’s end? And what’s the likelihood that the coaching search has already begun in earnest?

A: I think Clay Helton has a chance to coach for his job over the next few weeks, as wins in the next three games would make a real statement. I think it might be tough for him to be the coach next year without a significant improvement on last season’s 5-7 record. A coaching search wouldn’t truly begin without an athletic director in place.


Q: Who is responsible for teaching defensive players how to tackle? Do they actually practice tackling at full speed or just simulating it at half speed? Thanks

A: The position coaches all teach tackling technique to their players, and there are tackling circuits where they are tackling bags at full speed. We’re unable to watch practices during the season, so we can’t speak to exactly how much tackling goes on during practices, but with what we could watch during spring and fall, this team does not do a lot of full speed tackling of players.


Q: Will USC even offer a potential new HC and assistant coaches enough money to bring in top tier talent?

We view SC as one of CFB’s great blue blood programs, but would we really pay $2 million plus for elite coordinators (eg – Dave Arranda), or $500k for a S&c coach?

A: I do get the feeling that there’s a sense among notable boosters at USC that if a change does happen, they’ll need to come up with that kind of money to bring in someone that can deliver the kind of success USC fans are looking for. I think that as it stands right now, a lot of the big-time coaches that USC fans are throwing out as options would have a real issue with the amount of money spent on football. It’s one thing to compare yourself to Washington or other Pac-12 programs, but the elite national programs are simply on another level.


Q: Which, if any, of the coaches would you like to see retained when Helton is let go?

A: I don’t love getting into all the hypotheticals surrounding replacing a USC head coach who is still working hard at his job. But certainly we’ve seen with the past two coaches that losses can mount to a point where discussing it is unavoidable.

I think that if things go poorly this season and a change is made, it would greatly depend on the head coach brought in and the options he could provide. I like a lot of the USC coaches right now, but if they aren’t compatible with a new coach, you have to let him clean house and bring in his guys.


Q: Erik, will Kedon Slovis get more than 200 yds passing against Utah?

A: Yes

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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