13 min Read

WeAreSC Mailbag (9-20)


Hi Garry,

You speak to the coaches one on one, and get to see their intent face to face. It is clear to almost everyone that changes need to be made, both in staffing and procedure. Do you sense any intent other than that Helton is committed to sticking with their preseason prep and planning, or do you see he and his staff open to making (huge) course corrections mid-season? Thanks, and Fight on!

I see a coach Helton who appears more committed than ever to seeing his plan through. He isn’t giving any indication, nor are his coaches, that they are thinking about major “course corrections”. They will point to a Rose Bowl, a Pac-12 title, a 4,000 yard passer, leading the nation in sacks last year, etc as reasons for staying the course. But Helton also admitted in his Sunday night media call that part of his optimistic outlook regarding the team is to be the leader, and that the players will feed off his attitude. I get that part from a coach perspective but I think most fans and former players are saying the optimistic attitude is ignoring certain realties at the moment.


GarryP, couple quick questions.

Any truth that HCCH took over the offense playcalling at Monday’s practice?

We have some players that are not getting things done on the field, why they aversion to playing the youngsters to see if they step up? At the least they gain valuable game experience for the future and will define future recruiting needs. What’s that old adage ? If a dogs gonna bite he’ll bite as a pup.

He spent his time with the offense on Monday and was very hands on during the run-heavy session. There were no team drills and that would have been the only real time to call plays, the rest is scripted for each drill.

I don’t think there is an aversion to playing younger players. We’ve got true freshmen starting at QB (Daniels), WR (St. Brown) and S (Hufanga), plus others in the rotation at corner (Griffin), OLB (Mauga) and receiver (Williams). And by the time all is said and done this year I think we add Gaoteote and ITS as key special teams guys.


Do you think with WA St giving up 3 yards per rush that USC will line up in an I and run the ball this week? Wishful thinking?

I would love to see it. Helton said 80% of the plays run in practice on Monday were run plays but I think the defensive game plan for most teams right now is going to be to load up and stop the SC run game and make J.T. Daniels beat them.


Will OG get more reps? Need some improvement at db.

I think we could see him get more reps in this game. Washington St obviously throws the ball a lot so the Trojans will need to do more rotating than usual in the secondary.


Coach Helton says that this will be a running team.
Yet in the Texas game there was lots of passing and minimal running.
Why is the running game not working or being used?

I definitely think the Trojans went away from the run game too early last week. There were two rushing touchdowns in the first half and almost a third, yet at halftime we had attempted 27 passes with only 11 rushes. It’s hard to say you stayed committed to the run with well over double the number of attempts at a time when the game was still close. But it’s also becoming more obvious that teams aren’t going to want the Trojans to beat them on the ground, not when there is a true freshman at QB. We will see teams load up “in the box” to stop the ground game until a time when J.T. can make them pay. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting it on J.T. at all (I think he’s been very good), I think it’s the run game that needs to come through, and I’m putting a lot of that on the o-line.


I can’t wrap my head around why SC gets embarrassed by big time programs? SC gets Top 10 recruiting classes every year and still the same product on the field. Teams like TCU, which haven’t had a top 20 finish in years, are able to compete with the likes of OSU. Is it coaching/player development? What needs to change to make SC relevant year in and year out?

I would put the recent performances against fellow blueblood programs as one of my top two concerns of the Helton era (along with inability to develop the power run game he said he wanted when he campaigned for the job). As for the reasons, the timing of your question is interesting because of the well-received podcast interview with Petros Papadakis on the Jon Wilner/Mercury News podcast. Give it a listen, Petros does a very good job of detailing many of the reasons why the USC program finds itself in this current situation.


What’s your thoughts on the shorts and shells practices?

The game is played in pants and pads wouldn’t it make sense that they train in them to get use to the extra weight? It might even help with conditioning.
You would think.

More than anything I think it allows for them to play football. You need to get used to blocking in pads, tackling in pads, etc. I understand that there are rules which limit how often you can be in pads but I think you take advantage as often as you can. I don’t understand the thought process this week, coming off two games in a row where you got beat, of not being in pads at least one of the two days.


Garry, how much control does Helton have over his staff? Does he have free reign to make the personnel changes to his staff, as he sees fit, or does he need to go to HH to get their blessing first?

Also, Coach Drevno has the titles of RB coach, Run Game and Pass Protection Coordinator, are these just titles in name only, or does he actually have say when it comes to coordinating them?
Fight On!

As far as I know he has free reign. Both Haden and Swann have said that when it comes to Helton, that they don’t get involved with assistant coaching decisions. I’m sure there are conversations that need to be had with HH when it comes to salaries but I’ve never heard of any interference or need to get a blessing.

For the most part I think those titles are a way to get more money or to make a resume look good. If I’m going to have a RB coach I certainly want him involved in planning the run game and pass protections, no matter if he is the coordinator of those efforts or not.


In the Roundtable post, Greg Katz said “The coaching staff is missing a voice like an Ed Orgeron,” In the McKay years and the first stint for John Robinson, we had Marv Goux who was very much like Ed O. (or vice versa). Do you think this and all future coaching staffs should have that type of coach? All of our National Championship years since Howard Jones had Marv Goux or Ed Orgeron on the staff.

I do think that’s an important voice to have on the staff. I never got a chance to really see Goux but I saw the impact of Orgeron and a guy like Tim Davis, and it was so important. I also remember the message Pete sent to all of his assistants, that they were the ones responsible for setting the tone at the beginning of practice, the energy, and it started with a simple bag drill where the players would run and step over about 10 bags as the coaches lined up on either side of the drill yelling and encouraging, and getting the mood right to start practicing some football. Helton and his staff focus more on teaching, and it’s his right to use whatever style he sees fit, but at times like this when adversity is hitting it’s nice to have someone to light a fire.


Ajene Harris has been picked on by Stanford and Texas. Any chance we see either ITS or OG moved to the nickle? Both seemed to be talented cover corners.

Not yet. If we see anyone else in the slot it would be Jonathan Lockett.


What’s the deal with the kicking game?

I’ve never seen anything like it. We’ve got two scholarship punters with a case of the yips, a placekicker injures his knee chasing down a blocked kick and needs to be replaced by another kicker coming off a knee injury, and the one steady guy so far is a walk-on freshman handling kickoffs (who I thought looked pretty good at placekicker this week).


Garry, do you think Sam’s leaving was 100% about the money for a first rounder or might there have been other factors? Play calling? Coaching? Returning players?

At the end of the day I think Sam was likely to leave no matter what once it became clear that he was going to be an early pick but I also believe (based on what I was told at the time) that other factors helped make his decision easier to make.


I thought I heard that Darnold had mentioned that the opposition might be reading our plays. Then watching UT blow up every single screen pass in the exact same way seems suspicious. Could this be the case, and if so what to do about it?

One of the critiques of Tee Martin has been his predictability with play calls. The best ways to change that up is to self-scout, to know your patterns and adjust the rhythm of the calls, the formations, etc. Norm Chow used to always say it wasn’t the number of plays that you had, it was more about running them out of multiple formations and when you called them, did you set things up for later, etc

Trojan Trev


What changes (schematic, practice/preparation, and/or personnel wise) need to happen this week in order for USC to get a win Friday night against WSU?

There’s not much you can change on a short week when it comes to schemes and personnel. I think the biggest change we could want to see is the team come out and play Trojan football for 60 minutes. We haven’t seen that the past two weeks. In both games the Trojans were right there at halftime and then we saw the other teams pull away in the 2nd half without a response. That’s not the usual USC style. Just come out and play the kind of football we know you’re capable of playing and I’ll take my chances with the result.


With everything going on with the depth at safety, what are our options at this position given the unavailability of Bubba Bolden? Seems like a big hole defensively this week facing a pass-happy Wazzu offense.

It will be a three-man rotation of Marvell Tell at one spot, and Talanoa Hufanga and C.J. Pollard alternating at the other spot. The depth at secondary has definitely taken a hit when you consider guys who could be here such as Jackie Jones, Jamel Cook, Ykili Ross, Jay Godfrey and Isaiah Pola-Mao, not to mention Bubba.


Gary .. your opinion .. what happened to this program . I know 1-2 is not a surprise but the way they have lost is beyond disappointing.To me players have no confidence in staff .. SC has a lot of talented players who have been exposed to top level coaching .. they can sense incompetence. Your thoughts please. By the way keep up all the great work you are doing.

There are a lot of different factors to answer that question, and I hope you’ve had a chance to listen to the Petros podcast that is linked in an earlier answer, because he does a really good job of outlining many of the reasons and giving context to those reasons. If I’m going to put one at the top of my list it would be the physical aspect that was the foundation of the program for so many years. I think it started with Kiffin and the sanctions, where he made the decision with reduced scholarships to keep the numbers steady at the skill positions and recruit fewer linemen. The overall reduced roster level also impacted how we were able to practice because of the risk of injury with fewer players. The third thing was the play calling, which started to shift in favor of the passing game and the bubble screen. Then came Sarkisian, who shifted to a single back system where the QB wasn’t under center and took out the fullback. It’s a system that can put up yards but it’s not always conducive to a power run game. Finally, Helton preached his desire to return to a power run game during his stretch as interim coach, and there was a memorable drive on the ground to close out a victory against the Bruins, and it looked like he was ready to deliver. I think the biggest disconnect of the Helton era has been the lack of developing that area, and the hand-in-hand way we’ve seen the development of the offensive line. We’ve seen the offense put up big numbers at times but when we’ve matched up against fellow bluebloods it hasn’t been the case, often with embarrassing results. It’s not the standard of the USC offensive line that we’ve known and it represents something within the whole program. People ask about identity, our identity used to be physical football of the highest order, and it’s not anymore.


The offense looks so bad granted the o line is horrible but the energy passion is way down even in the UNLV game.
Do you think there was tension/division of the team with true freshmen JT being named starter?
Do you think there is tension with the wide receivers because St. brown gets more passes?
Drevno is responsible for the run game he has been pretty silent or has nobody called him out?

Agree with you about energy and passion being an issue. I don’t think there is anything with J.T. being named the starter but I don’t know if we can say that at receiver with Amon-Ra. As far as Drevno he has been pretty stand up to put the accountability on him for lack of run game success.

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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