Slovis & Company Decimate UCLA; the Wait Begins

Behind him, the fight song that had been his soundtrack at USC for the better part of a decade roared on. As the song blared joyously, again and again, in the aftermath of a 52-35 rivalry rout of UCLA, his players climbed the ladder one by one, conducting the band with the customary sword, soaking it all in.

But Clay Helton kept walking toward the tunnel, until the man who would soon determine his fate called to him from a few yards away. “Enjoy this,” new athletic director Mike Bohn said as he caught up to his embattled coach. Helton put an arm around him and smiled, stopping only briefly, before continuing toward the tunnel.

There was plenty to enjoy Saturday for a coach who has faced a constant stream of doubt over the past two seasons.

But was it enough? Once again, the question loomed over all Saturday, as two crosstown rivals met at a crossroads. Both teams took rocky roads to arrive here, battling inconsistency, fighting unforced errors, struggling to establish any sort of foothold for long. Both teams, for different reasons, were desperate for a statement Saturday, if only to point to some evidence of their programs’ progress.

For UCLA, there was no such overt concern about its coach’s future. Chip Kelly, who boasts more than twice as many losses in Los Angeles (16) as he had as Oregon’s coach (seven), would carry on without consequence.

The results were troubling, nonetheless. Saturday’s defeat not only saw the Bruins (4-7, 4-4) slip out of bowl contention, but also clinch a fourth consecutive losing season — the first time UCLA had fallen so far since before the Great Depression.

“Whether this knocked us out of a bowl game or knocked us out of the playoffs or knocked us out of anything, when you lose it’s disappointing,” Kelly said.

It didn’t start so disappointingly for UCLA on Saturday, as the Bruins scored on their opening possession, thanks to a USC penalty on a punt that kept the drive alive. It was as positive a start as UCLA could have expected. In its four victories, UCLA had scored on its opening drive.

But once Slovis got going, there was no slowing the Trojans and their freshman phenom by one of the Pac-12’s worst secondaries.

Even as UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson did his best to duel with his crosstown counterpart, passing for 367 yards and three touchdowns and adding 64 and a touchdown on the ground, it proved to be a futile effort.

At the end of an unexpectedly stellar freshman season, this sort of heroic performance from Slovis had become old hat. But here was the overlooked former three-star recruit’s development on full display. He hit Michael Pittman Jr. twice for touchdowns in the second quarter, then hit Drake London (15) from 34 yards out just after halftime. A blow to the head midway through the third quarter saw Slovis briefly sidelined, but he returned to lead two more touchdown drives, capping the first with a soaring 49-yard score to Tyler Vaughns.

It was the fourth time in five weeks that Slovis passed for at least 400 yards and four touchdowns. This time, he’d gotten just about everyone involved, as four Trojan wideouts had more than 100 yards receiving for the first time in school history.

Those receivers could only shake their head at how far Slovis has come this season.

“I didn’t see this coming,” said Pittman, who caught 13 passes from Slovis. “I didn’t see him becoming the new superstar quarterback of college football.”

As a decision looms on college football’s hottest coaching seat, there’s perhaps no better symbol of the program’s progress than Slovis, who boasted just one other Pac-12 offer when Helton’s staff took a chance on him.

“When your opportunity comes, you have to make the most of it,” Slovis said. And there was no doubt that he’d done that in a season when USC needed it most.

But what that progress might mean for Helton, whose exit had seemed a foregone conclusion, remains to be seen.

Might it actually be enough, even as frustrated fans prepare the pitchforks and torches for that possibility? The issues of his tenure go undeniably deeper than the surface-level success of the past six weeks. Recruiting remains an issue. A frustrated fan base continues to call for his ouster, leaving open swaths of seats across a newly renovated Coliseum.

Asked why USC started so slowly this season, before turning it around late, Helton blamed “a perfect storm” of injuries and youth. But was that a worthy enough excuse?

“One of the things I think will make this team incredibly strong for the future is the way they handled that and their belief now in what we’re doing,” Helton said. “You bring in a new offensive system, one that I think fits our personnel, and how electric is it? How fun is it?”

The fun Saturday, however, would last for only so long. Soon, the questions would come again, and the speculation would continue to ensue.

As Helton walked off the field and into the Coliseum tunnel for what might be the final time, he pulled off his cap. He flashed a “Fight On” to fans screaming in his direction, and did what he always said he would, whenever asked about his job the past two seasons.

He ignored the noise around him and headed up the tunnel, soaking in what was left of those final precious moments.

“USC is an extremely special place and always will be,” he said later. “It doesn’t matter if I’m the coach or you’re the coach, USC is always going to be special. Always.”

latimes.com

__________

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PN4SC
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If there isn’t an announcement by tomorrow that Clay is being retained, then I will be very confident that when the dust finally settles, Bohn will send this incompetent fool packing. Right now, no news is good news.

Steveg
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After hearing some of Clay’s remarks I am thinking that he has already had a talk with Bohn and knows what is coming. The fact that Meyer has not said a word speaks volumes, as he has to stay away until the proper time out of respect for Helton and USC. Maybe we can get someone as trustworthy and capable of getting to the truth like Adam Schif to get it all sniffed out. Just joking friends. chuckle wink

TrojanMPA90
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I wouldn’t necessarily believe that no news is good news. It could be Bohn is waiitng to see if Utah loses next weekend and USC wins the Pac-12 South and goes to the Pac-12 Championship Game. That is one way he could justify keeping Clay for another season,

Jamaica
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It’s another foot in the mouth line by Clay Helton and Mike Bohn was there to hear it. When did anyone ever hear a Division 1 HC tell his AD in front of the reporters, cameras & the team, “I did the best I could boss”? Talk about being amateurish… but yet as the call on his future is fast approaching, the real Clay Helton is exposing his real self? It wasn’t “the team did the best it could boss or “we” did the best we could boss”. No it was me myself & I did the best I could… Read more »

Steveg
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If Meyer is off the table, then the first call should be to Whittingham. Then look into the young and up and coming. I do like Rhule.

Chris
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Rhule before whittingham in my opinion. My only reservation is the NFL has Rhule on radar. I believe he will be there sooner or later. We need our next guy here for a while.

Steveg
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We can disagree and it won’t effect anything. I have always liked what Whit has gotten out of his players.

Jamaica
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What is disturbing to me about Whittingham, is his “we are what we are and I am not going to change it attitude”. He refused to go zone against USC even though Slovis & company was lighting up the DBs. They passed very little and kept running the ball when they got behind and never caught up. I don’t think he is big on adjustments?

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According to Adam Maya, A decision will not be made until as least next week, when the Utah game is decided. He also stated Bohn does not like the idea of an interim coach coaching the bowl game. He mentioned that ch’s contract has language that means his buyout is reduced after December 1st.
Had USC lost to UCLA, he would have been told the bowl game is your last game.

Steveg
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I can only see Helton staying if he changes his DC and Baxter. If the DC wants different people give them to him. Another season with the air raid could be very beneficial for the offense. Especially since Slovis is now the #1 and has basically a season to experience the different fronts thrown at him. Patience my friends, let’s let the professionals do their thing and see where we end up.

Jamaica
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Next season, without a better HC than Clay Helton, I see losses against Alabama (more like a crushing), then to Notre Dame, At Oregon and at Utah. If i’m right, we will be no better record-wise next season under Clay Helton with a GH passing game minus Pittman and either ‘Vaughns or Jones or both possibly leaving early. 3-of the OL will be gone. On defense, Rector & Houston will be adios. The DB backfield should be better with a year of experience though. I hope Mike Bohn has looked at this scenario as well.

Rock2112
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Don’t forget our loss in the “trap game” against the New Mexico Lobos wedged between Alabama and Notre Dame!

John Weld
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Top 25: AP | Coaches

1. LSU | LSU
2. Ohio State | Ohio State
3. Clemson | Clemson
4. Georgia | Georgia
5. Alabama | Alabama
6. Utah | Utah
7. Oklahoma | Oklahoma
8. Florida | Florida
9. Minnesota | Minnesota
10. Michigan | Baylor
11. Baylor | Michigan
12. Penn State | Penn State
13. Wisconsin | Oregon
14. Oregon | Wisconsin
15. Notre Dame | Notre Dame
16. Auburn | Auburn
17. Memphis | Cincinnati
18. Cincinnati | Memphis
19. Iowa | Boise State
20. Boise State | Iowa
21. Oklahoma State | Oklahoma State
22. Appalachian State | Appalachian State
23. Virginia Tech | Virginia Tech
24. Navy | Navy
25. USC | USC

Rock2112
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Well, after it all, there is a plausible case to be made for either decision on Clay. He stays, because he had only one truly down season, 8-4 is pretty darn good given all the youth and injuries, he’s a good man, runs things clean, the kids are playing for him (hasn’t lost the team), and he’s handled the hot seat with grace. If you fire a guy like Clay after one down season, it only makes the USC head coaching position less attractive to candidates who do not want to be held to an impossible standard. He goes because… Read more »

John Weld
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I think Clay should be fired for the simple reason that he cannot evaluate players properly or maybe it is because he values player loyalty over talent, in either case that is bad. People talk about injuries and how he he still managed to guide us to an 8-4 record, well I look at it that for every injury that happened the player that replaced the injured player was as good or even better than the player he was replacing. Which goes right back to the previous point about his ability to evaluate talent. The team lacks toughness and discipline,… Read more »

Rock2112
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All great points John! I agree it has been a major stain on Helton that he seems to learn later than everyone else who his best assets are. It is tough for me to square that with the fact that he seems to have a good eye for recruits — having been the one that spotted Sam and Kedon when no one else was particularly hot on them. And some of the other lower ranked recruits have turned out to be nice surprises this year as well. But I think the problem lies in two places — one of which… Read more »

Jamaica
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So, while Clay Helton is still busy giving game balls to anyone associated with the decision on his future at USC, i ask this question earnestly….. do we thank Helton for finishing strong winning against “mostly sub-par 500 teams” or does GH get that appreciation? For without “his” passing game it is likely we would have lost to some of these same sub-par 500 teams? Do we give a nod even to Lynn Swann (painfully) who may have told Helton to bring in KK & his replacement GH along with replacing Neil Callaway who I believe would still be here… Read more »

trojandn
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IMHO, seems like to me that USC will keep Helton. If that’s the case, he needs to replace Pendergast and Baxter…

LawyerJohn
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sucla coeds mixing it up at SC frat houses on the Row….suclas freely roaming about in front of Tommy Trojan…beautiful women of all ages looking their best….a 4-year old Trojan in full gear dragging a little bear on a string behind him,,,a 12:30 start under a bright 72-degree sun makes the sucla and SC helmets shine brightly…Slovis is pinpoint accurate and sucla’s Robinson is electric….sucla closes to within 10-points twice, creating a bit of Trojan anxiety… the loudest cheers other than for the 7 Trojan touchdowns are for the announcement of Armed Forces’ groups…Art Bartner’s last show is one of… Read more »

danielmcd1
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One thing that CH said is true, that USC is a special place and always will be. It is the most special place to me and my family. I am a life long Trojan forever. I was married to my wife of 33 years on campus. I graduated from USC in 1972. My mother and sister worked at different times at the University. My Mother had to be retired twice because she loved working in the gift shop/book store. My Father even scouted for John McKay in the early 1960’s. Yes, CH, USC is a special place and always will… Read more »

alfa1
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Look at the last picture, expand it, what do you see in facial expressions of both men.

rleeholder1
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alfa1: very astute observation. When I expended the photo after saving it, Clay’s expression is telling me he said something like “I tried my best boss, but I guess that wasn’t good enough”. We have all seen photos of CH over all these years and this is the first time I’ve seen one of Bohn in other than a podium setting. Looks like he may have said something like “that’s it” or “your moving on”. Just my take as I’m hopeful of change. I will always respect Clay for being a nice guy, but as a Head Coach at USC… Read more »

Jamaica
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Helton seems to believe he has to win the approval of just one individual (Bohn I tried my best boss), for Bohn has to win favor with many parties concerning his handling of Helton’s future or Bohn will be looked upon as another Lynn Swann like poor decision maker. Helton has basically ignored his public who buys the tickets, the apparel, posters on websites such as this one and probably has stayed away from boosters-big ticket alumn who expect more than what he has delivered. AD Mike Bohn cannot ignore the overall opinion of Clay Helton’s job performance unless he… Read more »