USC vs. Cal: Confused Cat

California vs. USC
November 16, 2019 at 8:05pm
Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA: 46,397 (of 62,467)
Total Time: 3 hours 17 minutes

Somehow, Helton took his team on the road and managed to score 41 points on one of the better Pac-12 defenses. That’s the most points anyone has scored on Cal in a single game all season and one point shy of the most points scored on them since 2018. Before playing USC, they held teams to an average of less than 21 points per game. That would’ve ranked them around #26 in the nation in scoring defense, had they not played USC. Helton is probably feeling pretty good about himself after this win, but I doubt it convinced anyone that he should be retained at the end of the season.

At the beginning of the game, Cal was able to run with at the USC front seven with success and scored first. Typically, the talent in skill positions can be somewhat comparable between schools like Cal and USC. The true gulf usually lies in the line talent, which would show in the running game on either end. The continued run success of USC’s opponents suggests a gulf in coaching ability.

After figuring out the exploitable match-ups between the Cal secondary and USC receivers, the Trojans went vertical as often as they could. More than one third of Slovis’ attempts were completed for 10 or more yards and five completions were in the 30+ yard range.

12 passes of 10+ yards (34% of attempts)
7 passes of 20+ yards (20% of attempts)
5 passes of 30+ yards (14% of attempts)

Many of the touchdowns throws came from very anti-climatic slips by Cal defenders. It resulted in plays like this one:

His celebration had about as much enthusiasm as me when I found out that I won $2 from a $1 scratcher. I guess he’s seen better touchdowns though.

Speaking of which, four different receivers had touchdowns, which is pretty cool.

Good/Badisms

BAD: Ejection of defensive lineman, Christian Rector, due to targeting. His tackle for

BAD: The umpire was standing in the way of a pass route, requiring him to duck for the ball to get to Pittman. The obstacle proved to be enough for cause him to drop it.

GOOD: Slovis being able to scramble and come to a complete stop before passing to Drake London.

BAD: Like the story for many of USC’s opponents this season, the starting QB went out of the game, allowing USC to beat them down. The game was still a tough 10-7 until their offense stalled out with backup QB Devon Modster in for the starter Chase Garbers.

GOOD: Cornerback Greg Johnson’s long interception return.

GOOD/BAD: The tip interception to Isaiah Pola-Mao was great…until he fumbled it on the return.

GOOD: It was great for the back ups to get some playing time in for once.

CommBro Breaker

Only one more game until the end of the regular season. Then endless speculation regarding coaching moves will be fueled until a new hire is formally announced by Athletic Director Mike Bohn. USC fans will be sitting together like this:

I think most people can agree that we are beyond the point of saying Helton can recover. (Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1:) There are only three teams with winning records in the conference at the moment. USC has played all of them and only beat Utah. Despite such a soft schedule, they could only muster up a 7-4 record.

It will take a Utah loss to either Arizona this week or Colorado next week and a USC win against UCLA for USC to make it to the conference championship game. Either way, we hope the UCLA game is his last game.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: Averaging 2.1 yards per rush. USC almost averaged more scoring drives per quarter than that. Cal managed to average 4.7 yards per run.

USC vs. ASU: What’s the difference between Helton and a dollar bill?

ASU vs. USC
November 9, 2019 at 12:35pm
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ: 54,191 (of 55,000)
Total Time: 3 hours 35 minutes

I had predicted a loss to ASU, and despite the early 28-7 lead, I still expected it to happen. Luckily, I was proven wrong and we can enjoy being bowl eligible for the first time since 2017. Many of you probably still feel like this:

However, I don’t think that will be the issue. Would a new athletic director really want their performance evaluated based on a head coach that has lost the fanbase and is a hire from two athletic directors ago? Based on subtle hints in Mike Bohn’s speech, it seems like we should expect a set outcome no matter how Helton finishes the season.

Helton posted up one of the highest scoring first quarters—the highest since Sark’s first season, with Kessler throwing for 4 TDs against Colorado. He almost tricked us into thinking he knew what he was doing.

Slovis looked like he had end of game stats by the end of the first quarter (297 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions). As a result, Helton seemed to be lulled into thinking the game actually ended already. He could’ve stayed at his first quarter scoring numbers and still won the game. Getting an average of one point per quarter after the first isn’t much better than that.

  • ZERO touchdowns in quarters two through four
  • Allowing a 19-3 scoring run by ASU
  • Scoring drought of 28:45…basically half the game

Still, that was one of the better first quarters we’ve seen. Being able to gain 315 yards compared to ASU’s 1 yard, while holding the Sun Devils to 0 first downs is quite a sight. He had a decent first quarter against Oregon last week too. That’s three quarters he’s basically MIA for. Where’s the other 75% of the coach? Now we know where the other quarter platform went in King’s Cross Station.

We wish Helton could disappear into the wall as well.

Now imagine him in other professions.

  • Pizza delivery: Order a large pizza, only get two individual slices
  • Audio technician: half a speaker for your stereo setup
  • Marathon runner: Stops after 6.55 miles
  • Furniture designer: One-legged table
  • College student: Cooks minute rice for 15 seconds

Can the school pay him 25% of the salary? Even his first quarter was full of problems like:

  • illegal shift on a freaking PAT after the first touchdown
  • allowed large kickoff return after going up 14-0 and again after 21-0. The second one was a squib kick that still got to the 50-yard line. Isn’t that the exact opposite of what a squib is supposed to do?

Good/Badisms

GOOD: Former USC safety, Jack Jones tried to strip the ball from running back Kenan Christon and failed miserably. The transfer’s greedy play allowed Christon to run it in for the touchdown.

BAD: Linebacker John Houston’s near interception that bounced directly into an ASU player’s hands.

GOOD: Kedon Slovis’ perfect touch pass from the 5-yard line that Amon-Ra St. Brown turned into a touchdown.

GOOD: Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao making an interception as if he was the receiver.

BAD: Slovis’ first mistake near the end of the second quarter. He overthrew Pittman on double coverage despite having time. That led to an interception.

BAD: False start penalty while trying to go for it on 4th down.

BAD: A pass interference on cornerback Olijah Griffin, which ESPN showed on screen as committed by “Devon Williams”—who is currently an Oregon wide receiver. Williams and Griffin both wore #2 when they were on the USC roster. Williams transferred a while ago. Maybe ESPN can put this on their “C’mon Man!” segments?

GOOD: Receiver Drake London ripping away a near interception from a defender’s hands on a 3rd-and-18 during the short period of time Matt Fink was in for Slovis.

BAD: Roughing the passer penalty that wiped out an interception. It’s technically written that way in the rulebook, but it really shouldn’t be that way. If the roughing penalty caused the turnover, I could understand returning possession back to the offense, but if that’s the case, that means it shouldn’t be roughing since he hit the guy as he passed the ball. If it didn’t affect the play, the 15-yard penalty should be assessed after the play has ended, which means the ball still gets turned over. The rule is the same in the NFL and CFB, but I think it should be changed.

GOOD/BAD: C’mon Pac-12, a review on a punt? At least it showed punter Ben Griffiths and the special teams’ best work all year: pinning ASU at the 1-yard line.

GOOD: St. Brown’s 24-yard punt return.

GOOD: Defensive lineman Christian Rector with the tip and the interception.

CommBro Breaker

Finally bowl eligible! We can safely say this season is better than last season. Only took 10 weeks of the season to confirm. They’ve got back-to-back UCs in the next two weeks. We’ll see how it goes…

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1: The offensive line only allowed 1 sack this game. They also gave Slovis time to throw on most passing plays. Quite surprising since he was getting rushed or knocked down every other play last week.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: Don’t ever let anyone tell you Helton isn’t the best at something. He is the best in the nation in every statistical category for allowing long kickoff returns. That means everything from 30+ to 90+ yards. Can you think of the worst FBS teams—ones that may not even have any wins right now? Well, they have allowed less than Helton’s team has this season.

USC vs. Oregon: Streak Breaking Continues

USC vs. Oregon (Trojan Family Weekend)
November 2, 2019 at 5:05pm
Los Angeles, CA: 63,011 (of 77,500)
Total Time: 3 hours 34 minutes

For the first seven games of the season, this was how it went:

Then he decided to go and do that wrong too by breaking the streak last week in an away game win. This week, he continued the streak breaking by losing at home against Oregon. It wasn’t just losing that made it bad. It was in the top five largest margin of loss in the last 50 or so years (since the 0-51 loss to Notre Dame in 1966). Of the eight losses of 30 or more points in that span, Helton accounts for three of them.

2019 USC vs. #7 Oregon: 24-56 (34 point loss)
2017 #11 USC vs. #13 Notre Dame: 14-49 (35-point loss)
2016 #20 USC vs. #1 Alabama: 6-52 (46-point loss)
2009 #11 USC vs. #25 Stanford: 21-55 (34-point loss)
1990 #5 USC vs. #21 Washington: 0-31 (31 (31-point loss)
1985 USC vs. Notre Dame: 3-37 (34-point loss)
1977 #5 USC vs. #11 Notre Dame: 19-49 (30-point loss)
1966 #10 USC vs. #1 Notre Dame: 0-51 (51-point loss)

Even if we stretch it out through all of USC football history, Helton accounts for 13% of all USC losses of 30 or more points from 1888 to 2019 and this game ties for the 7th worst.

Believe it or not, some of them still exist

Before the exodus of USC fans in the fourth quarter, there was still quite a large presence of Oregon fans in the stands. I’ve honestly seen less hostile away games during my time (like USC-Stanford in Palo Alto at 12:30pm, when it feels more like a neutral site or USC home game).

It’s hard to believe that the team started out with a double digit lead before squandering it. The Trojans even pulled back within 4 after falling behind. Most teams would be able to hold it together with 20 seconds left to go before the half, but, somehow, the team with a dedicated special teams coach allowed another large kickoff return that ultimately broke the team’s back.

Oregon scored touchdowns on six straight offensive possessions and one apiece on defense and special teams. In the time that Oregon went from zero to 56, USC scored a single touchdown. The 0-60 stat is supposed to describe how fast cars accelerate, not the scoring totals of the opposing offense. A 56-7 scoring run is absolutely disgusting. The Trojans’ three touchdowns are spaced out by about 25 minutes each after the first one (23:55 and 27:09). Scoring droughts of that length don’t win you many games against top 10 teams. At least the ones that we did see gave us some excitement.

Quarterback Kedon Slovis’ first touchdown pass to Drake London looked like he was inputting keystrokes for Dance Dance Revolution or the Konami Code. He definitely needed cheat codes if he was going to try to win this game on his own.

Unfortunately, as mentioned last week, this kind of hero mentality can also hurt when it doesn’t work. He looked absolutely frantic at times. This generated some bad plays, near-turnovers, and actual turnovers. It reminds me a bit of Darnold starting to reach more and more and becoming a turnover machine later into his time at USC. Perhaps it is borne out of a desperate desire to win under a coach that can’t seem to get it together. Hard to blame him, given the context. By the end of the first half, Slovis already attempted an astounding 40 passes. Throwing 40 passes in a game is already a lot, even for air raid teams. Pass happy air raid teams like Washington State tend to sit around 30 to 50 attempts per game. Slovis hitting those numbers at the half and finishing with nearly 60 attempts illustrates the immense strain they are putting on the true freshman. Two of the three interceptions weren’t even his fault. One was a catchable ball being tipped by the receiver and one was when the receiver fell, allowing the defender unfettered access to the interception.

Good/Badisms

GOOD: Cornerback Greg Johnson’s deep pass break up early in the first quarter. It was a well-disciplined play that has rarely been seen from corners in recent years.

GOOD: Holding Oregon’s offense to zero points and negative yardage for most of the first quarter.

GOOD: Running back Kenan Christon continues to impress at running back. Had the team not fallen behind so much and been forced into throwing situations, he likely could’ve gotten his second career 100-yard game.

BAD: After the team gave up a pick six, the PAT block unit has a member running onto the field late. Those two consecutive plays demonstrated the mess that this team is under Helton.

BAD: Bad tackling every week.

CommBro Breaker

After the ninth game of the season, USC is 5-4 and still struggling to be bowl eligible. There’s a real possibility they could lose to all three of the remaining opponents (especially with two road games) and finish with a second consecutive losing season for the first time in 60 years. Even if USC wins out, Utah will need to drop a game to make a Pac-12 championship berth a possibility. Finishing 10-4 with a Rose Bowl win is still somehow not outside the realm of possibility.

Best case scenario: 10-4 with a Rose Bowl win then Helton still gets fired and replaced with a competent head coach.

What I expect to happen: 8-5 finish then Helton still gets fired and replaced with a competent head coach.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week: Oregon had more interception return yards (102) than USC had rushing yards (91).

Uplifting Stat of the Week: We really had to dig the bottom of to the bottom of the Walmart DVD bargain bin for this one. USC is #16 in the nation in passing yardage, despite all the changes at quarterback and playing younger players.

Misleading Stat of the Week: USC has a 100% win percentage this season…in games attended by less than 62,546 people. Maybe Helton has stage fright. Just kidding. It just means they are able to beat up on teams that don’t have as much resources.