USC prepares for rematch with Stanford

first_imgFor head coach Clay Helton and the USC Trojans, a fall from here would be a long way down. Being named Pac-12 South champions to the tune of trouncing rival UCLA caused the teams’ spirits to be immensely high during practice Tuesday as they prepared for the game against No. 7 Stanford and a chance at the Rose Bowl.USC Athletic Director Pat Haden minimized the potential impact by labeling Clay Helton as the permanent head coach Monday.“Besides marrying my wife and the birth of my children, this was the most special moment of my life,” Helton said. “This is the pinnacle of college football and to have the responsibility to lead it is not only the greatest challenge but also the [most] exciting thing that has ever happened to me. And I look forward to that opportunity.”Haden and assistant coaches agree that in a season defined by changes since the dramatic departure of Sarkisian, Clay Helton has been the one constant that players have relied on, trusted and needed. And among  all of the subsequent emotions and confusion, offensive line coach Bob Connelly said that the players bought into Helton’s philosophy of playing as a family. Helton has preached that no one outside of USC’s locker room could understand what they were going through and that if they were going to survive, they would have to do so together.“In my opinion, there is not a better guy out there for the job obviously when you look at the response of our football team after it was announced by Haden,” Connelly said. “To me, it doesn’t matter what is on the outside. What matters is the inside, and when those kids have the belief that they have for him, there is going to be something special. He is a phenomenal man and phenomenal leader. He is a great football coach, so I could not be happier for him or more proud to be a part of his staff.”Much of USC’s success since Helton became the interim head coach has largely been attributed to the dominant play of the offensive line. Connelly says that his line has been encouraged by Helton’s mantra to run the ball and control the time of possession while doing so, which was evident against UCLA where USC had 40 minutes of possession time and rushed for 235 yards.“When you are an offensive lineman and you are put in that position in a game like that — that is a prideful thing,” Connelly said. “Absolutely, they are excited about that, and they were very thankful that they are able to execute that game plan. There is no better feeling as an offensive line coach than when you are in a situation like we were in last week where you have to control the ball, keep them off the field and kill the clock.”Su’a Cravens agrees that the family mentality that Helton has instilled within the team has translated into its plays on the field. He said that players feel more accountable for their individual actions for the betterment of the team and not themselves, which was evident in their defensive performance against UCLA. Cravens said this week that they are going to have to do the same, plus make their tackles, if they are going to slow down the “extremely athletic and physical” Christian McCaffrey and Stanford. Cravens compared McCaffrey to USC’s Adoree’ Jackson in that he is so versatile and dangerous with the ball in his hands. Like Jackson, Cravens noted that McCaffrey is a threat to break away and score at any position on the field but added that McCaffrey is more physical and has the ability to also run the ball inside, and they are going to have to gang-tackle if they are going to bring him down.“I think we are just a better team all around since the last time we played them,” Cravens said. “We know our play book and we know the guys that we are working with and we trust each other after all the experiences. There were a lot of problems in the beginning of the season where we didn’t trust each other and we were trying to do somebody else’s job and make a big play instead of just trying the system and the game plan.”Helton admitted he is not a person who is going to change, saying that the keys to defeating Stanford will be running the ball, stopping the run and winning the turnover battle as it has been all season long. But he added that today’s practice was focused on being more efficient on first and second down on both offense and defense in order to get into the third and short yardage situation so that they can extend the drives and time of possession. Helton said that third down and long situations make the team one-dimensional and expose the quarterback, but that if they can run the ball effectively to begin the series then they can open up the play action and free up receivers downfield for big plays.Though USC lost in its first meeting against the Cardinal at the beginning of the season, Helton said that his team has changed tremendously, as they have learned to play more physical and inspired football. In that game, the USC offense watched helplessly from the sideline as the Stanford offense marched down the field controlling the line of scrimmage with an aggressive rush attack and the time of possession in the fourth quarter.“I think that we have just got to be disciplined if we want a better shot at beating Stanford,” Cravens said. “Physicality is going to be a huge part of this game. I think that is why they beat us in the fourth quarter last time we played. They averaged like six or seven yards a carry. We have really got to stop the run. I think that we have shown that we can now.”last_img read more