USC Football Mailbag: How To Beat Alabama And How To Be Alabama

Sep 5, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Max Browne (4) reacts after the game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 5, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Max Browne (4) reacts after the game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

USC football has a lot to figure out before the season begins, like how to beat Alabama and how to reach the Tide’s level. Our weekly mailbag looks for answers.

Welcome to the Reign of Troy mailbag. This mailbag will be a weekly Sunday feature, where we will answer your questions related to USC football.

If you have a question for the mailbag, send it in to @ReignOfTroy on Twitter or via email to

Let’s get started:

I’d like to know what some of the key changes are under coach Helton that lead us to believe we have an Alabama-like program— @usctrojan_2004

First, I don’t think it is appropriate to say that USC is an Alabama-like program at this point in time. Alabama has a proven head coach, an identity, and is feared. USC has none of those attributes at the moment, and it will take multiple seasons of sustained success in order for them to be on par with Alabama.

As far as key changes that Clay Helton has made that would lead us to believe that he wants to go in an Alabama direction, firing Justin Wilcox and bringing in Clancy Pendergast to run an aggressive, attacking defense would be one. Another would be hiring Neil Callaway to run the offensive line (Callaway played for Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama).

While we are not sure exactly what USC will be doing on offense, we can be sure that they will be a physical team under Helton.

Do you think that Helton’s reluctance to name a starting QB indicates a move to a read-option offense?— Dave Cason @DRCason51

That is a possibility.

USC has struggled over the past year in deciding whether it wants a pure pro-style QB or wants to get a more athletic dual-threat QB. This was shown when they could not decide whether to make K.J. Costello or Shea Patterson their top priority in 2016, who went to Stanford and Ole Miss respectively.

It should be noted that while Sam Darnold is a great athlete, he is more of a pocket passer who has the ability to run than a true dual-threat. He can run no doubt about it and is tough to bring down, but his style is more Ben Rothlisberger than Michael Vick.

With USC getting Matt Corral in 2018 and chasing Jack Sears in 2017 after the commitment of Tua Tagavialoa to Alabama, it seems that USC wants pro-style QBs who have the ability to run rather than true dual-threats.

Do you think Helton names Browne starting QB to start the year just so he doesn’t transfer? Even if Darnold is better?— Bobby Glasspole @coachG89

If Max Browne is named the starting QB, it will be because he earned it and the coaching staff believes he is the best to lead the team. If Max loses to Browne, he would have to wait until January of 2017 to transfer because transferring after the competition is over would not give him enough time to win a starting job at another school.

Sam Darnold is a talented player, but he has much to learn in terms of reading defenses and looking past his first read. He also tends to get happy feet, which can lead to turnovers. For that reason, look for Browne to win the job in the fall. But if Darnold beats him out, USC will still be in good hands.

Why do you think Helton brought back Pendergast at DC instead of a new face?— Eric Norwood

In coaching one of the main things that you have to look for is compatibility; can you get along with person in the long term. Remember that while Norm Chow was a great offensive mind, he clashed with Pete Carroll and eventually left the Trojans to go coach with the Tennessee Titans.

Clay Helton knew Clancy well, had been with him at USC when USC had the best defense in the Pac-12, and knew that Clancy wanted to stay around when Steve Sarkisian was hired but was ultimately not retained so Justin Wilcox could be brought in. So, it made sense that he went after him after he was named head coach.

There is also the possibility that since Helton is unknown and unproven that many top guys like Jeremy Pruitt and Dave Aranda did not want to coach for him. Pendergast was likley the best Helton could have done at this point in time, but either way he is a great hire.

In the small chance that Adoree Jackson goes to the Rio Olympics, how will that affect his football obligations and preparation for the upcoming season?— Eric Norwood

The Olympics begin on August 5th and end August 21st. USC typically begins fall camp at the end of July and continues until the last week of August.  Adoree Jackson (assuming he qualifies, which is a life-long dream of his) would miss most of fall camp in that situation, and he already missed all of spring. Therefore, he missed Pendergast’s install, and if someone stands out to Pendergast in the fall, he won’t hesitate to name him the starter alongside Iman Marshall.

Keep in mind that Jack Jones, and Kayshawn Young are very talented players who can make an impact in Jackson’s absence.

Jackson regressed last year, getting beat more often than he had as a freshman. He also is undecided on whether to play offense or defense, which he should decide on this coming year.

In short, if he misses that much practice, his development will be halted.

What are the keys to beating Alabama in our season-opener?— Eric Norwood

First, name a starting QB. Second, develop an identity.

Fail those two things, and USC won’t have a chance.

It should be remembered that the Alabama that USC will play is not the one that beat Clemson in the title game. Alabama lost Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, starting QB Jacob Coker, most of their offensive line, several key members of their defensive line, and defensive leader Reggie Ragland in the middle.

Of course, Alabama simply reloads (as does USC), but they are vulnerable in opening games.

USC will need to use their receivers and tight ends to exploit Alabam’s secondary and stop the run in order to win. On paper that seems simple, but it will be a clash come September 3rd.

Why did Amari Rodgers de-commit and is he still considering the Trojans? Did it have anything to do with Coach Martin? In your opinion what are the chances we flip him from Clemson before Signing Day 2017?— Eric Norwood

The most likely reason Rodgers decommited was because USC brought in five receivers in 2016, two of whom were five-stars who are likely to play early. He also lives in the south, so perhaps he wanted to stay closer to home and go somewhere he could play sooner.

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I doubt Tee Martin had much to do with it.

At this point, it does not seem that the Trojans are really recruiting Rodgers, so look for him to end up at Clemson or elsewhere in 2017.

What are the biggest needs for the recruiting class of 2017?— Eric Norwood

Defensive line, running back, defensive back, and linebacker.

Has there been any talk of Helton and USC hosting a satellite camp?— Eric Norwood

Helton reportedly plans to team up with TCU and do a satellite camp during the summer. USC generally doesn’t need to do them because they have their own local camps that are well attended, but are expected to take advantage of them this summer.