Harrell Is Making All the Calls; Helton Still Has Big Plans

Ryan Kartje (LA Times —  After the first two games of his first season as USC’s offensive coordinator, Graham Harrell stood in front of reporters gathered in the Coliseum tunnel, ready and willing to answer any question.

On Saturday afternoon, as anger and doubt began to swirl around the program in the wake of a 30-27 loss at Brigham Young, Harrell was entirely absent from postgame proceedings.

That left Clay Helton to answer for USC’s questionable play selection, a subject on which many USC fans are still sensitive when it comes to the Trojans head coach.

As the fanbase seethed in the aftermath of the overtime defeat, rumors flew that Helton himself had taken over the team’s play-calling in the extra period. On Sunday, Helton defended his offensive coordinator’s performance, while reiterating that Harrell “is making all the calls.”

“I thought Graham called a good game,” Helton said. “You could always go hindsight after the game. But I thought Graham, for what everyone said is Air Raid, did a wonderful job staying disciplined while the defense is dropping eight.”

As the Trojans got the ball back in overtime, trailing by a field goal, running back Vavae Malepeai lost a yard on first down. On the next play, Malepeai took the handoff again, rushing for five yards.

The decision to run on those downs was roundly questioned after the game, considering the result of the next play — Kedon Slovis’ pass was tipped, then intercepted to end the game.

Helton twice defended those decisions since.

“Graham called the plays based on what he felt was going on in the game,” he said Sunday. “We felt like we were running the ball pretty good. We end up getting the first-down run, where we actually had a little bit of a hole and just missed it. We’re sitting there, second and 10, second and 11, and I thought it was a good call by Graham to get third and manageable. …

“That gave us a good opportunity to have a third and manageable rather than a possible third and long, to keep us in great field-goal range. He called a third-down spacing play that we did have, if you go through the read correctly, there is a man open.”

But Slovis missed him and, suddenly, for the first time since Harrell’s hiring, questions about USC’s offensive game plan lingered.

Of course, it was hardly the only question coming out of Saturday’s demoralizing loss. Helton pointed to “growing pains” associated with USC’s youth as a primary reason for its multitude of mistakes. He noted on Sunday that four bad plays by young players accounted for 150 yards of offense for BYU.

“It’s something that we’ll live and learn from and grow from,” Helton said.

But as the Trojans prepare to face down a gantlet in the next four weeks, beginning with No. 10 Utah this Friday, and continuing with No. 22 Washington and No. 7 Notre Dame soon after, the Trojans — and their head coach — might not have much time left to find answers.

With one of the nation’s best defenses looming in a few days, Helton said, “it’s not a lot of time to feel sorry for yourself. That’s what everyone was saying in [the locker room]. ‘Hey, it’s one game, we’ve got to correct it and move on.’ We plan on doing big things this season and it’s early in the season.”

Etc.

Senior defensive end Christian Rector was “close coming into [Saturday’s] game, but just not close enough,” Helton said. As for Friday, Helton believes Rector is “pretty close” to returning against Utah. … Nickel cornerback Greg Johnson left Saturday’s game and did not return, but Helton had no update on his status. … Utah running back Zach Moss, who’s tied for eighth in the nation in rushing, told reporters that Utah would add to the “good, little wound” received in USC’s loss to BYU.

 

 

 

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TrojanMPA90
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Latest bowl projection for USC from ESPN:

Cheez-It Bowl
Chase Field, Phoenix
Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m., ESPN
Bonagura: Iowa State vs. USC
Schlabach: Iowa State vs. USC

Not a great bowl and not sure if Helton would still be there if we end up here.

USCJojo
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Where is this punter that was going to average 50+ yards per punt and pin opponents inside their own 5 yard line? Why can’t USC just line up for the extra point in position? Why do all that fake shifting stuff?
Baxter and Clay must be very very good friends. With all the mistakes the special teams have made, three games in a row, how is he still employed?
I wonder if swann’s letter from last year will be read when they let CH go.

Paul_Muad_dib
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It has to be the Helton effect. If everyone says they saw him punt it 50+, then the coaches must be telling him to do something else.

USCJojo
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Helton must not be a “punting is winning” kind of guy.
The Helton effect….. 😂😂😂

Paul_Muad_dib
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He’s probably afraid to out-kick his own coverage. Playing not to lose.

illinoisusc
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So who is it that could be a good future head coach and not bring a lot of issues……….Franklin……..Stoops……..????
How bout a Carroll castoff from Seattle. His DC.
Up and coming or down and out of the NFL.
Its going to be interesting.

TrojanRJJ
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I do not know about the rest of you, but I wonder if Clay actually believes the nonsense he says. I just cannot stand it. I have stopped listening to him. I wonder if the kids see threw the BS.

Trojan5
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Yes. I think Clay believes what he says. Among his many shortcomings, he is not very good at coach speak. He tries so hard not to publicly criticize anyone or say anything remotely negative, his statements are often nothing more than word salad. And his unwillingness to acknowledge the most blatant mistakes makes him look foolish. Clay may not ( I am being kind) be qualified to be the HC of a top tier football program, but I don’t think he is a liar. It is ironic that a man who most probably is decent & honorable is perceived by… Read more »

PN4SC
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I don’t think Clay is that delusional, that he would believe his own BS.He sounds like a President running for reelection with a bad economy, promising good times ahead, with no basis in fact. I can’t stand listening to him, because he is so full of crap, his eyes are turning brown. He must go, soon!

TrojanRJJ
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Trojan 5, I fear you are correct. If so, Clay is not bright (putting it very gently). Assuming you are correct, how the heck did he get the job? A mediocre OC (Kiffin hired him more as a personal assistant) who is not bright gets one of the best jobs in collegiate football, makes millions, and then proceeds to ruin the program. You could not make this story up if you tried.

usc50
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Under Clay Helton there has been a slow erosion of USC football. This year he is finally trying to do the things he should have done 3 years ago. He should have hired the best coaches he could not not favor relatives and friends. And have hard practices instead of country club practices. He should have enforced discipline from the beginning. And not show favoritism toward any players. And learn to make adjustments. And in all try to be a leader instead of the deer in the headlights look. The first thing we saw was USC recruiting going from top… Read more »

illinoisusc
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It is so frustrating to want him gone but want the kids to be successful. Oh well……in the end doing what is right for the long term interest of the program and kids seems the best choice. Some say money is the root of all evil……and unfortunately that root is what is keeping this used car salesman here.

TrojanRJJ
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Illinois, It is the love of money that is the root of all evil, not money.

illinoisusc
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Thanks

LawyerJohn
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That was a short 2-game honeymoon for Slovis and Harrell. But in sports the fans will turn on you at the first sight of a loss.,, And Helton, poor soul, is left with nothing to do but be a cheerleader. Problem is, his team will be overly-matched the next 3-games, so he has got to come up with something of more substance than verbally urging on his boys.

TrojanMPA90
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I know this may sound like a conspiracy theory but the fact that Harrell didn’t want to talk to the media after the game leads me to believe either Clay was calling the plays. I watched the whole game and we never had 4 or 5 receivers sets most of the game. We kept throwing it to Pittman and Vaughns and didn’t even try to go to St. Brown or any other receiver. Also why pull Stepp out when he is ripping off 11 yard gains per carry. In football and in most sports, you go with the hot hand… Read more »

LawyerJohn
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Stepp fumbled. If SC did not recover that ball then game over. Stepp was benched after that mishap.

RialtoTrojan
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The flaaboump you heard after the press conference was probably Harrell being thrown under the bus. Sure it was a costly mistake to throw the third pick, but I doubt that was the play called from the press box. Until I hear that Harrell accepts responsibility for that game I will not believe it. Some of the plays were straight from the loser handbook, written by C. Helton (in crayon) To use a music analogy I would say Helton is like the guest conductor who has never played an instrument well. Sure he can count to four and wave a… Read more »

Jamaica
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I’m sure GH has studied tape yesterday to see what Kedon was seeing and throwing to. Were the recievers making adjustments as BYU’s defense did, to find space? All QBs will take chances throwing into coverage. Getting picked in successive drives was a critical time in the game. When BYU was able to score on both mistakes, the momentum changed. USC became conservative and BYU got aggressive. But I thought Kedon was supposed to be a dual threat. I saw BYU linemen & linebackers catching him from behind during some of his runs. What was that about?

Uniforminoc
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I’ve got to be honest, Stoops or Urban, I like the chatter…

TrojanMPA90
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Wouldn’t touch Urban with a 10 foot pole. He had a wife beater on his staff and did nothing about it. Stoops might be okay but don’t know how interested he is in the job.

Uniforminoc
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No question about it, Urban exercised the poorest judgment possible in that situation and there is no way to defend him for his selfish behavior… AND, I’m not ready to condemn him for life over it… His poor judgment DOES NOT make him the guy committing domestic violence. And I don’t see how that lapse in judgment automatically erases his character. To treat him like he is guilty of domestic violence because he didn’t handle the situation better is irrational… he was disciplined for the situation and I bet the farm and all the chickens that he would not do… Read more »

TrojanMPA90
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I agree with your points about giving people a second chance and you are right that he didn’t commit the crime. He probably should have fired the staffer once he knew about it but didn’t.

Given all the scandals that have happened at USC, I’m not sure we want to take Meyer on even though he has a proven track record.

If I have to choose between Meyer and Stoops, I’d go with Stoops first.

Uniforminoc
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Very well said, TrojanMPA90…. Stoops is a 5 star football coach who knows how to win… and, I will always believe that Urban is a very respectable man who made a bad decision….

ATL D.D.S.
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Did stoops ever win a Natty? I don’t think he did.

ATL D.D.S.
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Thanks Allen. He won the first time he got to the big game, but lost the next three times he got there. I think that’s why I thought he hadn’t won a Natty.

TrojanRJJ
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I would. He is not going to coach SC for a decade. At best a five year gig. The “woke” will go crazy, but the “woke” hate football. Urban made a mistake in judgment trying to help a friend. He did not commit a capital offense. He can coach and the only person who could hire him would be a female president. And, he would be so much of an upgrade that I cannot give it words.

Uniforminoc
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Very well said TrojanRjj

LawyerJohn
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It’s called ratting on a friend. And in war and in sports and with the police the code is enforced even more vigorously. No matter what Meyer did he would have been hammered.

Uniforminoc
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Not a valid excuse but a good point… Let’s not forget the guy he did not rat on is the grandson of Urban’s mentor… All that said his judgment was poor that can never be disputed

Chris
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Urban covered for him not once, but twice. He knew the guy was beating up his wife and still brought him to Ohio St. he was then arrested while on staff at Ohio St, and still kept around. Come on. His Florida teams were a train wreck in regards to the type of kids he recruited and coached. He didn’t have a simple lapse in judgment, he has a long track record of poor decisions and looking the other way. He flat doesn’t care about the university, or consequences, or the kids in the team as long as he wins.… Read more »

ATL D.D.S.
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Look, as far as Meyer goes, what’s past is past. Apparently forgiveness is in ample supply when it come to public figures if you are publicly “woke” enough. Urban will do everything he can to correct that part of his past by never letting a whiff of anything coaching staff ugly to happen again. Give him a chance, we need a radical shift in football leadership,

Rock2112
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Say what you will about the character problems, but two things happen if USC fires Clay Helton and hires Urban Meyer during this season: (1) our 2020 recruiting class recovers from the disaster it is shaping up to be; and (2) we walk out of the tunnel against Alabama next season with a CHANCE to be competitive (not necessarily win, but be competitive). If Clay Helton is retained, or we make another stupid hire like bringing in Jeff Fisher or Jedd Fisch, neither of those things happen.

Uniforminoc
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F%#@ Alabama…. you are spot on in your assessment, AND… Urban would absolutely be the perfect fit to roll into the SEC and leave with a W

danielmcd1
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We have a much better offense and if we limit the turnovers we have the capability to score points. Three INT’s will defeat most teams and that was our problem on Saturday. Our defense IMO is better than last year and we made some key stops on 4th down and had to play a short field which resulted in giving up 10 points. Without those 2 turnovers we may have stopped BYU. We should have won the game but the mistakes were too much on this Saturday. CH is still on the hot seat and will most likely be replaced… Read more »

UtahTrojan
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Here is what we are looking at on Friday: Utah has a much better defensive line and Offensive line than BYU, Utah has a much better QB and Running back than BYU, Utah has a much better coach than BYU. So even if we correct the turnovers this does not fix everything that Helton has created. I do agree with you, we need to cheer the players on, but Helton can not move on fast enough for me. Also very concerned the GH would not talk to reporters after having such a bad performance. You have to take the good… Read more »

LawyerJohn
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This one is on Slovis. The kid had already thrown two interceptions in the game, so he knew it was difficult to find open receivers, and yet he let one go into tight coverage when our field goal kicker was at the ready after having knocked through a 50+ yarder. That game should have gone into a second over-time, giving SC a chance to win it.

Rock2112
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That’s on BOTH Slovis and the coaches. Tell me this LJ, why did we adjust our game plan to be run-centric after the two early picks? Answer must be to take pressure off Slovis and acknowledge that the BYU defensive scheme was going to continue to present a high risk of additional interceptions. And if THAT is true, then why on God’s Earth, when we are at the critical third-down play in OT while in position for a FG to force 2OT, would our coaches call a pass play when a pick ENDS THE GAME? We don’t want to put… Read more »

Steveg
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Glad to see someone addressed the question of Helton calling plays again. If Harrell thought the run would work, then I have to agree with him he knows more than I do. My only problem is that Stepp was getting big yards and was on the sideline. You go with the starter or the guy who is hot? I go with hot. Helton obviously goes with his heart.