After losing to Texas 37-14, USC football must make a change, whether that’s Clay Helton rethinking practice or Lynn Swann rethinking his head coach.
Last week after the Stanford game that ended in a 17-3 loss, there were many questions but not many answers. Going into the Texas game, USC football fans knew one thing: This would either be a game that could swing the season back in the direction that they had hoped, or it would be the beginning of the end for Clay Helton and his regime.
Sadly, the answer was the latter.
In the first eight years Pete Carroll was the head coach at USC, only one time did he lose a game by double digits. In his last four games, Clay Helton has lost three games by double digits. It is likely his team will lose more games by that margin unless something is done.
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In the three years Helton has been the permanent head coach at USC, the Trojans have been eliminated from playoff contention before November, twice in the month of September. Helton has repeatedly talked about being a national championship-caliber program, but there has been little evidence that the Trojans will get to that level with the current coaching staff.
Both Tom Herman and Helton entered this game needing a win to stay off the hot seat. Herman ended the game with a cool seat, and Helton is firmly on the hot seat.
Some will say that Helton was in a similar situation in 2016, and was able to turn it around. While this is true, there are several differences.
First, Sam Darnold was on the roster, and there is no equivalent around now (though JT Daniels is certainly a quality player).
Second, Helton seemed to sense there was a problem and worked on fixing it. That does not seem to be the case this year, as he has failed to mention that USC is making critical mistakes, is unprepared for games, and even went so far as to praise his special teams coach as the best one he knows. He said is not concerned about that side of the ball at all. Let that sink in.
Change is needed at USC. It begins with practice. Currently, USC only practices one day in full pads, though they are allotted two days. Not taking advantage of every full padded practice opportunity slows the development of the offensive and defensive lines, and also lowers the physicality level of the team. This leads to USC not being able to dominate the line of scrimmage, and puts the team in precarious situations.
Yet even with that evidence, Helton has made it clear that there will be no changes in how the team practices.
It is too early to know what will happen at the end of the year, but it appears that athletic director Lynn Swann will need to begin a coaching search immediately. This is not USC football, and the players and fans deserve better than what Helton is putting on the field.
That does not mean that Swann should fire Helton now; USC has had enough midseason firings to last them the rest of the century. But Swann cannot allow the problems to persist beyond this season. Will he do the right thing? Or will Helton make the necessary changes so that Swann doesn’t have to?
Someone must make a change, or USC will continue to wallow in mediocrity.