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.

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?

USC vs. Utah: Fink and Dunk

USC vs. #10 Utah
September 20, 2019 at 6:06pm
Los Angeles, CA: 55,719 (of 77,500)
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes

Great news guys. This week, we got an exclusive interview with head coach Clay Helton. Please see below for the Q&A.

Helton, can you stop losing in time of possession?

Can you stop getting 10+ penalties in a game?

We continued to ask loaded questions and were met with the same responses until Tim Tessalone figured out we were only there for the buffet. I kid. One day, we may get some real press credentials. Until then, there are always memes…

The season began with starting quarterback, JT Daniels, getting injured in the first half. Two games later, Kedon Slovis gets injured in the first series and, just like that, USC is down to their third string quarterback. It’s comforting to know that the team has three viable quarterbacks, but it draws attention to the wealth of talent that has been wasted under head coach Clay Helton. Also, dropping down to the third string quarterback for the second time in two years is troubling. Interestingly enough, watching the backup’s backup wasn’t the low point of the game.

We were able to live about 10 peaceful minutes until first penalty—then the mouth of hell opened up into true Pac-12 night form, vomiting out 27 total penalties for 237 yards. Surprisingly, the game did not take four hours to be completed. Speaking of unnecessary penalties…

Reggie Bush made his first appearance back at the Coliseum and, as you can imagine, it caused some trouble. After Markese Stepp scored on a touchdown run, a Pac-12 official tried to physically impede Stepp from getting a high five from Bush. After the official failed to restrain a 235-pound individual in his prime, the official decided it was worth a 15-yard penalty. It’s a good thing we have the Pac-12 and NCAA to protect the weak hearts and minds of susceptible young players from the likes of celebratory gestures with former football players that most certainly “did not” attend or play at USC. Had Stepp gotten a handshake from the poor, out of place commentator Rob Stone, would the Pac-12 have given him a penalty for that?

If you ever feel out of place, think of Rob Stone on this night and be comforted

We can all see that vacating wins, championships, awards, and disassociation of players does jack squat. This farcical attempt at pretending Bush never played at USC leaves everyone in a weird spot. Why does one feel compelled to prevent a player from high fiving Random Fox Sports Analyst #2? Bush wasn’t the only analyst drawing interest though. Who could forget Brady Quinn in that panel? Just kidding. Hope he continues to enjoy to hanging out with Bush and Leinart on set every day. Anyway, former Ohio State head coach, Urban Meyer, also drew some chants from the crowd.

Whether or not you like him as a person, few can deny that Urban Meyer is a good coach. However, could someone like him really end up as USC head coach? According to our top sports superstition experts here in the City of Angles lab, yes, he will be. Remember that 2014 Ohio State season when they won the national championship? Meyer went from QB Braxton Miller to Cardale Jones and eventually to JT Barrett. He used his third string quarterback to beat Alabama in a playoff game. Since we also have three decent quarterbacks and will be opening against Alabama next season, Urban confirmed. Dream on.

In reality, we still have Clay Helton until he is officially removed from his position. Who the heck calls a timeout right after a change in possession? The clock gets stopped for that anyway. He seems like the kind of person that tries to calls out sick when on a federal holiday. Helton, can you stop wasting timeouts?

I don’t even need a caption anymore

GOOD/BADISMS

GOOD: A blocked field goal after a penalty negated a blocked field goal.

BAD: Apparently, a wayward white board caused an injury.

GOOD: A goal line stand that was capped off by Isaiah Pola-Mao’s tackle for a loss. That tackle prevented Utah from taking the lead early in the fourth quarter.

BAD: The team did not make it into positive rush yards until the fourth quarter. Even then, it was a net of 28 after accounting for the kneels…less than 0.7 yards per carry.

GOOD: Always good to see a safety. It turned out to be a crucial play. True freshman Drake Jackson continues to be a difference maker on the defensive line.

BAD: The average starting field position was at their own 22-yard line. The best return was only to their own 34. With how things have been going, it’s really not worth returning with the ball security issues in mind. Their best is only 9 more yards than a touchback.

GOOD: Michael Pittman’s hard-earned 232 receiving yards.

BAD: A four minute, 8-play Utah drive following a USC fumble that featured five combined penalties

GOOD: The USC offense baited another team into an offsides penalty.

GOOD: Fink finishing with 21 of 30 (70%), 351 yards, and 3 TDs.

BAD: Not tackling in practice is still showing.

CommBro Breaker

While everyone might be praising the Fink and Dunk football, Fink’s style seems to rely an uncomfortable amount of receivers winning jumps to move the offense. I know I said dunk, but save the jump balls for basketball.

Furthermore, Utah was ranked too highly when USC played them—just like Stanford was. Utah also does not have the DB talent to defend against receivers like Pittman. This could be a problem at Washington, especially given that Helton does not get his team ready to play away. It may be a rough one with a few interceptions.

Ridiculous/Misleading Stat of the Week #1: USC got nearly 10 times more yards (120) from Utah penalties than they did rushing (13).

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: Speaking of rush yards…somehow, Stephen Carr finished the game with -16 rushing yards. That’s more yards lost than the QB kneeling three times at the end of the game (-15).

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #3: USC is 113th in the nation in penalty yards per game (72.3). 117th

Misleading Stat of the Week #2: 100% of USC’s conference opponents have been ranked. That’s only two out of two, but will become three out of three next week.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #4: The Trojans are 117th in the nation in turnover margin per game (-1.25), 118th in total turnover margin (-5), and 125th in total lost (10). #yikes

USC vs. BYU: Meme Stream

Brigham Young University vs. #24 USC
September 14, 2019 at 12:36pm
Provo, UT: 62,546 (of 63,470)
Total Time: 3 hours 49 minutes

I considered not even doing an analysis and replacing it with a literal stream of memes. However, I realized that wouldn’t be good. I wish people realized the same thing about Helton before he happened. Either way, I decided to include a few memes for this week:

If losses could talk, that’s what they would be saying to Clay Helton. He always has an excuse and some impossible optimism of just a few things that need to fixed to be on track. Well, then fix it. Or actually, don’t, because we hope he will be gone soon, so we can say:

Asking for a new coach used to go like this:

But with Swann gone, we can only hope that it’s going to be happening by the end of the season. Anyway, time for the game analysis.

It turns out that Stanford might finish with a bad record, so it settles that debate. Regardless, that doesn’t completely discount true freshman Kedon Slovis’ performance last week. He looked a little more human and freshmanned the game up a bit against BYU. Before overtime, Slovis was 24 of 33 (72.7%) with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. Still a decent performance for a freshman dealing with: his first road game; high elevation, a subpar offensive line; a subpar run game; and a subpar head coach. Although Helton indirectly blamed “turnovers” (meaning he was blaming a freshman QB, since all the turnovers were produced by him), I offer a different angle. There is no way a team with as much talent as USC should be putting all that pressure onto a freshman QB that was supposed to be a backupb to win a road game for them. He shouldn’t have the weight of the entire team on his shoulders.

Slovis’ stats still check out. He’s fifth in the nation in completion percentage (right above Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa). He just has to learn to read the zones better and not force passes. All things, we hope, he learns as he grows under a coach someday.

Meanwhile he continues to play under a coach that has produced:

BADISMS:

BAD: Illegal wedge penalty. Dude, Helton and Baxter should have left that in the Roosevelt era of football. Theodore Roosevelt. Seriously, many versions of it were banned in 1894…which was before Teddy, yeah, I get it. I just wanted to make a joke. Plus President Roosevelt was big on football reform in that time period, so it seemed like a relevant choice.

BAD: If you take out the three sacks, the BYU team rushed for 186 yards on 37 carries—an average of over 5 yards per carry.

BAD: Meanwhile, the USC running backs had trouble running against a three man defensive line. The offensive line, with five to six people, also had trouble protecting Slovis at times against that same three man rush.

BAD: A three man rush meant that eight dropped into coverage. The zones and number of defenders gave Slovis quite a bit of trouble. Of particular note were the linebackers making highly athletic plays for two of the interceptions.

BAD: In addition to three interceptions, there were three fumbles. Although none were lost, three leaves one feeling uneasy.

BAD: Slovis has locked onto receivers a few too many times, allowing zone defenders to read his eyes and clog up the passing lanes.

BAD: Not wrapping up tackles. Many defenders, sometimes two or three at a time, would hit the ball carrier for what would have been a loss or short gain, only to slide off and allow them 5+ yards after contact.

GOODISMS

GOOD: A career long 52-yard field goal for Chase McGrath that allowed the game to make it to overtime

GOOD: Michael Pittman grabbing some touchdowns in tight coverage.

GOOD: Erik Krommenhoek getting a career long of 60 yards on his second reception of the season. That already matches his two receptions per season during his USC career. Will he finally break two this season?!

CommBro Breaker

Utah has moved up to #10 and has to travel to a different time zone on a short week. They have tended to play down on the road as well. That gives this USC team a chance to win. Only four more wins to bowl eligibility—because that’s already a higher bar than last year. I still stand by my prediction of an 8-5 or 9-4 finish.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1: More people attended this BYU-USC game than any USC game since 2017.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: USC ranks #113 in the nation in average punt distance (38.78 yards)

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #3: I have to sneak a positive one in here somehow. USC is #2 in the nation in passes broken up…right under #1 UCF that just destroyed Stanford 45-27 (38-7 at the half). Whoops, still found a negative.

Misleading Stat of the Week: We finally won the time of possession battle! Totally worth. No, actually it wasn’t.

USC vs. Stanford: A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one

USC vs. #23 Stanford
September 7, 2019 at 7:35pm
Los Angeles, CA: 62,109 (of 77,500)
Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

We’re starting out with another meme of the week:

The absolute domination wasn’t the only surprise. Below is a picture of what showed on the screen at the end of the game. The scary thing is that was a the exact score of a previous USC-Fresno State game back in 2013.

Conspiracy. Games are rigged!

Before I bore you with another conspiracy theory, I’ll get back to what really matters.

In an enjoyably short game, USC displayed a level of dominance not seen for the past season or two. It began with a shaky start where the offense failed to score much and the defense allowed scores on Stanford’s first four drives—but then shut them out from there. They held Stanford without scoring for 38 minutes while simultaneously putting up 35 unanswered points for the victory.

To give you an idea of how rare this performance was, here are some stats:

  • Ranked for the first time since September 15, 2018.
  • Most points scored since November 4, 2017, when USC defeated Arizona 49-35
  • Largest margin of victory since October 28, 2017, when USC defeated Arizona State 48-17

Those are the backhanded compliments of stats though. Kedon Slovis produced some truly impressive numbers in his first career start. He completed 28 of 33 (84.8%) for 377 yards and 3 TDs. Which is the:

  • Most yards since since Cody Kessler threw for 410 against Idaho on September 12, 2015
  • Highest completion percentage (with at least 20 attempts) since Matt Barkley completed 95% of passes (19 of 20) against Colorado on October 20, 2012.

To put that into perspective, he was about four incompletions away from the NCAA record for completion percentage. Two of those incompletes were drops by a receiver. Something else you might notice is that the previous highs were against far inferior, unranked opponents. For Slovis to come in and put up numbers that big says a lot about both him and offensive coordinator, Graham Harrell.

Slovis made some suboptimal choices, but didn’t really make any outright mistakes in decisionmaking. That’s more than one should expect out of a true freshman in their first start. He didn’t crumble under pressure and even checks downfield for a throw before taking off to run. All-in-all, the way he handled the game appeared very unfreshmanlike.

Harrell also taught the offense some new tricks. Going from the last few seasons to now, we have seen the offense go from false starts and bad snaps being a staple to drawing multiple offsides penalties from the opposing defense. It’s a hell of an improvement.

GOOD/BADISMS

BEST: Slovis’ 39-yard deep pass that landed perfectly into Amon-Ra St. Brown’s arms despite a cornerback and safety in coverage.

GOOD: Tyler Vaughns redeemed himself by making some difficult catches after sitting out for a few dropped passes.

BAD: Allowing the Stanford offense to gain an uncomfortable number of yards on while the defense was in Cover 1.

GOOD: 8.1 yards per play for this game. For reference on how high that is, if they can maintain a similar average throughout the season, it would be the third highest average in the nation for the decade.

GOOD: Olaijah Griffin showed himself to be a great red zone defender. The true sophomore corner had some difficulties against Fresno St. with deep coverage, but has also redeemed himself

GOOD: Finally breaking 60,000 attendees at a home game since November 2017.

GOOD: Pulling off a seven play, 70 yard drive in the two minutes before the half.

GOOD: WiFi works actually well.

GOOD: The USC band throwing some shade at the Stanford band, saying that they traveled to 19 countries and have never been prohibited from playing at Disneyland.

BAD: Punt numbers aren’t as good as hoped

CommBro Breaker

When the end of the season rolls around, we may find out that Stanford had a 1-11 kind of effort in them. Also, with more film available on the USC offensive tendencies and actual film on Slovis, teams may be able to develop a gameplan to frustrate the young quarterback in this new offense— but for now, this win looks great on paper. Beating a ranked conference team by more than three touchdowns isn’t easy and should be enjoyed.

Double CommBro Breaker

On the other hand, more first team reps and college experience could mean that Slovis could actually improve as the season progresses. I’m not here for bold predictions so I’m going with the safe route of: “we’ll see.” Oh and you probably want me to acknowledge that Swann is gone, so there. I acknowledged it.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1: Slovis completed passes of 30 of more yards to four different receivers. As if there weren’t enough ridiculous Slovis stats.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: Slovis completed a pass to eight different receivers…which is more than the total number of completed passes he had last week.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #3: The defense amassing 6 pass breakups and 10 tackles for a loss.

Misleading Stat of the Week #1: USC still lost the time of possession battle this week. Luckily, it didn’t matter