USC vs. Colorado: Is this a quality road win?

Colorado vs. USC
October 25, 2019 at 6:00pm
Folsom Field, Boulder, CO: 48,913 (of 50,183)
Total Time: 3 hours 25 minutes

Survey says: No.

Clay Helton has defied the narrative and broken the road losing streak! That’s how it looks on paper, but if you watched the game, you might have noticed how painful and Helton-like it actually was.

The Trojans fell behind as much as 10 points and played from behind for nearly 43 minutes of the game. We’re looking at trends here. This kind of thing even happened to Pete Carroll every once in a while, but Helton is facing worse competition and still manages to make these easier games look like a playoff slugfest week after week. This wasn’t #1 vs. #2; it was a team with 3 wins and 4 losses trying to stay afloat in the Pac-12 South and has never beaten USC. At least he won, I guess.

The offensive side of the ball looked great in flashes, but failed to find consistency…yet again. While the young quarterback, Kedon Slovis, produced a good statistical performance, completing 30 of 44 passes (68%) for 406 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception, there were some concerning areas. Perhaps it’s the pressure of an unreliable coach, but he has appeared to take on a hero mentality and regressed in some areas. For one, he began to dance around in the pocket a bit and hold onto the ball for too long.  Other times he threw passes up haphazardly and dangerously in the air to avoid sacks in shades of Josh Rosen. That kind of playing leads to intentional grounding, interceptions, and fumbles. In fact, in one situation, he needlessly reached forward for extra yards after picking up a first down near the goal line. The resulting fumble took a lucky bounce.

It’s not all negative though. Slovis was on the receiving end of many hits during and after plays. Few quarterbacks, especially true freshman, can continue to deliver a solid performance after getting repeatedly knocked down play-after-play on the road.

If Colorado had a tad bit more in them, they could have ended the game several times over. They had plenty of opportunities to do so, but the heavily penalized Buffaloes allowed USC to complete the comeback with approximately two minutes remaining, giving rise to the meme above. Actually, it doesn’t matter. Win or lose, there will be memes.

Good/Badisms

GOOD: Amon-Ra St. Brown’s performance at running back. He had only a few carries, but made them all worthwhile. His vision for hitting the gap particularly stood out.

GOOD: Kenan Christon and Drake London quickly recovering fumbles that probably would’ve otherwise been the back-breaking difference maker in this game.

BAD: First missed field goal of the season

BAD: Plenty of plays could have been stopped for a loss or minimal gain if the defense had properly tackled. This continues to fall on Helton for not practicing/fixing something so fundamental to the game.

BAD: Misplaced pass that ended in an interception.

GOOD: The receivers made tough catches to keep the game alive.

CommBro  Breaker

Watch Helton defy the narrative and break a streak again next week—by losing a home game.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1: USC goes back to losing the turnover battle this week

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: Colorado receiver, Lavis Shenault had more receiving yards (172 yards) than the entire USC running backs gained, even before accounting for lost rushing yardage (151 yards).

Illuminati Stat of the Week: The kickoff stats between the two teams are eerily similar. USC kicked off six times for 389 yards with 5 touchbacks. Colorado kicked off six times for 390 yards and 5 touchbacks.

USC vs. Arizona: Stonks Up

USC vs. Arizona (Homecoming)
October 19, 2019 at 6:40pm
Los Angeles, CA: 53,826 (of 77,500)
Total Time: 3 hours 17 minutes

My post is later than usual, but not because my clock management is as bad as Helton’s.

Nice guy, bad coach

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a home game, so it’s been a while since we’ve seen a win. The Trojans barely climb back above a .500 record and will go back on the road on a short week. Colorado still has never beaten USC, dating back to their first match in 1927. Hopefully that continue that 13-0 streak and end their 0-4 road loss streak going back to nearly a year ago (November 3, 2018 against Oregon State).

Somehow Helton even manages to make a blowout look unappealing. It took several turnovers from Arizona to move USC’s offense. The red zone struggles showed up again, with several drives that ended without points or just field goals. Some of those drives started as turnovers just outside the red zone too.

Luckily, the defense managed to contain a mobile quarterback like Khalil Tate, which only happens every so often. They tallied up seven sacks. For comparison, they went into the game with 14 sacks in the past six games. Arizona only had one drive enter USC territory in the first half. Tate’s inability to get the offense going led to Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin benching him going into the second half. That quickly progressed into Kana’i Mauga’s interception off the of true freshman replacement, Grant Gunnell. Not bad for a secondary and defensive line stacked with injuries.

This game did no favors on the injury front, with all three running backs in the regular rotation now hurt. Former walk-on Quincy Jountti and true freshman Kenan Christon got playing time

Good/Badisms

GOOD: Kenan Christon with great speed, allowing him to sprint for 103 yards and two touchdowns off 8 carries. He led the team in rushing yards despite making a late entry.

GOOD: Michael Pittman fighting his way through defenders into the end zone for USC’s first touchdown of the night.

GOOD: The deep pass from Slovis to Pittman early in the second half.

GOOD: Kana’i Mauga made the most tackles (13) on the team for the night, including a sack, two tackles for loss, and an interception. He only had 8 tackles on the season going into the game and totaled 14 tackles all of 2018.

GOOD: A somewhat decently officiated game by the Pac-12.

BAD: USC still managed to rack up 10 penalties for 100 yards.

BAD: Seven of USC’s 14 meaningful drives went for less than 10 yards.

CommBro Breaker

Currently, USC holds a shaky first place in the South due to holding the tiebreaker over Utah. Every South division team still has a shot to win it and the Trojans are only one bad week away from losing their top spot.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week: USC won the turnover battle for the first time since the 2018 home opener against UNLV. In their defense, they’ve tied several times. Just kidding, it’s still pathetic.

Uplifting Stat of the Week: Arizona averaged negative yardage on their punt returns

Misleading Quote of the Week: Remember when long snapper Damon Jonhson was recruited and Helton said that “hopefully…you won’t hear his name again”? Well, I’m glad we actually heard it again. Johnson exhibited a quick reaction time to recover the early fumble.

USC vs. Notre Dame: Zero

#9 Notre Dame vs. USC
October 12, 2019 at 4:42pm
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN: 77,622 (of 77,622)
Total Time: 3 hours 16 minutes

ZERO road wins. This Helton guy is almost like clockwork when it comes to the home-away dichotomy. But at least there were also zero turnovers! The referees almost errantly gifted one to Notre Dame by pointing in the wrong direction, but that doesn’t count.

Weird (read as “bad”) officiating led to some strange outcomes, like ND head coach Brian Kelly running 3 or 4 yards onto the field in his natural yelling form during the onside kick without any sort of penalty. He was still there after the play had started. Remember when Talanoa Hufanga jumped in celebration and landed onto the field after a play was over and was penalized? Seems fair.

Notre Dame Stadium also can’t seem to escape goal line controversies. After the officials decided to grant USC an extra down due to their own error, a running back was pushed into the endzone. Much like a mid-October South Bend game in 2005, the officials had to give USC an extra play after realizing Matt Leinart actually fumbled out-of-bounds. The following play was the famous (or infamous) Bush Push. Bush Push, meet the Stepp Step.

 

There was also talk of a bad roughing the passer call and some missed PIs. Yup, all that sucks, but it would have been a bigger deal if anyone still cared about Helton being able to do something with this season and his career at USC. The Trojans scored 8x as many points in the second half than in the first half. By golly, those Trojans will get them all in the third half.

Good/Badisms

GOOD: Slovis recovering from his poor BYU performance and showing better decision-making even against drop eight coverages.

GOOD: Perfect throw and catch from Slovis to Amon-Ra St. Brown to give USC its first touchdown of the game. And again when Slovis was hit as he threw to St. Brown late in the fourth quarter to set up a score.

GOOD: Tyler Vaughns making some tough catches to keep the first downs rolling.

GOOD: Markese Stepp racked up plenty of yards after contact and should probably be getting extra playtime/carries. On one play, he ran for an impressive 19 yards, 15 of which had half the Notre Dame team trying to tackle him.

BAD: Speaking of failed tackling, USC still had too many defenders sliding off Notre Dame players after making contact.

BAD: The bad tackling and failure to set the edge allow Notre Dame to amass a total of 308 yards rushing.

BAD: Other than field goals, the team continues to disappoint on special teams. The punts went a little further this time, but too many were sailing into the endzone.

GOOD(ish): Only 2 penalties for 20 yards, which includes the ridiculous 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. ND had declined several penalties, though, which isn’t reflected in that stat line. Still, impressive for the Trojans to get through a game—especially a sold out away game—without a false start penalty.

GOOD/BAD: There was some great cornerback play at times, but in the end, too many of them got injured to provide consistent coverage.

CommBro Breaker

Halfway through the season, Helton sits at a perfect 3-3. Three home wins, three road losses. Does he realize that he shouldn’t be shooting for Thanos level goals?

A decent coach with this roster would likely be 5-1 or 6-0 and bowl eligible already, but 4-2 at worst. At that point, their only decent chance at losing is against Oregon. For Helton, I’m predicting losses against Oregon and ASU, with rough games against Colorado and Cal to limp to my originally predicted 8-5 ending.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1: Slovis has lost 27-30 after throwing two touchdown passes on the road against a non-conference team twice this season. Games are fixed!!

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: USC ranks 90th in red zone conversion rate (78.26%) compared to #1 Notre Dame’s 100%. Even more disappointing is USC’s touchdown percentage of 56.52% (for reference, ND has 85.36%). That means they score a touchdown about half the time they’re at 20 or less yards to go.

Uplifting Stat of the Week: Kedon Slovis still ranks 4th in the nation in completion percentage (75%)…still above Alabama’s Tua Tagovailova.

USC vs. UW: Types of Headaches

#17 Washington vs. #21 USC
September 29, 2019 at 12:40pm
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA: 66,975 (70,183)
Total Time: 3 hours 14 minutes

Clay Helton has proven his abilities yet again. USC plummets out of the rankings and down several statistical categories in yet another road loss. As predicted last week, Washington’s defensive backs took advantage of risky passes from Fink and turned it into three interceptions. The Huskies opted for a similar defensive strategy as BYU, with a plethora of drop eight. Like two weeks ago, the team was unprepared and had few answers as they fell behind by as much as three touchdowns. Despite receiving several breaks throughout the game, they failed to produce a competitive result.

Although USC’s 212 rush yards appear to illustrate a strong run game, nearly half of those yards were the result of two runs—neither of which ended in scoring drives. One of those drives ended in an interception and the other with a failed fourth down attempt. With Helton’s level of preparation, all the upcoming bye week will really do is give time for injured players to heal.

The postgame press conference and subsequent statements to the press on Sunday and Monday demonstrated Helton’s cookie cutter responses about “eliminating mistakes” and just how close they were to doing something special. You’ve been here three and a half years, dude. How can he keep saying the same things year and year and loss after loss? If he hasn’t fixed it now, he won’t be able to fix it anytime soon.

Good/Badisms

GOOD: Fink’s deep pass to Michael Pittman

BAD LUCK?: A lucky bounce for Washington as they scored off their own fumble in the end zone

BAD: This one is on the Pac-12 officials. Talanoa Hufanga’s celebration penalty was a result of him starting a side bump celebration from the sidelines, with the jump landing him just barely onto the field. Was something that barely qualifies as a violation really egregious enough for 15 yards?

BAD: 163 passing yards.

CommBro Breaker

It’s getting difficult to generate content. Such uninspired games beget uninspired posts. As one of my instructors used to say, at least mess up on something new—then at least we know you’re working on it. Helton-coached teams continue to display the same issues without much sign of improvement. I can only make so many new jokes out of the same material.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1: For yet another away game, the attendance is higher than any home game at the Coliseum since 2017 despite having larger stadiums than most of them.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: As touched upon earlier, USC has abysmal stats in the turnover category. Almost everything ranks below 120. Overall margin is at 124 (-7), average margin per game is 121 (-1.4/game), and total lost is three away from the bottom at 127 of 130 (13 lost).

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #3: USC is rank 110 in average opponent kickoff returns (24.42 yards).

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #4-6: Rankings for Opponent Long Scrimmage Plays:

  • #106 in 10+ yards (74)
  • #92 in 30+ yards (11)
  • #108 (of 108) in 80+ yards (1)

That means 107 teams have not allowed a play longer than 80 or more yards on defense and the Trojans are not among them. USC is in league with teams like Charlotte, Louisiana-Monroe, Troy, UMass, and Western Kentucky for that distinction.

Uplifting Stats of the Week: While lots of statistical categories suck, here are a few that don’t:

  • #23 in Sacks (13)
  • #24 in Passes Defended (25)
  • #14 in Passes Broken Up (23)
  • #1 in Field Goal Percentage (4 of 4)

Misleading Stat of the Week: As Helton claims, USC can still win out, get a Pac-12 championship and even a Rose Bowl/NY6 bowl berth. Even if he defied all odds and managed to do that, one can clearly tell he is underachieving by watching the games. It also won’t erase the memories of last season: the first losing season in 18 years and losses to both rivals. I guess it’s a stretch to call this a statistic though. Does that make me as misleading as Helton?