USC Football Practice Notes: Sick of road questions (9/26)

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images /

As USC football commenced their Arizona Wednesday practice, head coach Clay Helton looked to motivate the Trojans to find mental toughness on the road.

PRACTICE NOTES. Pac-12 South in Focus vs. Arizona

By now it’s no secret: USC football is significantly better playing at home than on the road.

The Trojans are 18-0 at the Coliseum under head coach Clay Helton, but 10-12 away from their home stadium, including an 0-2 record on the road to start the 2018 season.

Naturally, the question of USC’s road form came up on Wednesday with the team preparing for a critical Pac-12 South trip to Arizona.

“I’m sick of that question,” Helton said.

He is so sick of that topic, he used it as a talking point for the team after practice.

“We talked about how important the mental toughness of the game is when you go on the road,” he said.

The Trojans got going when the going got tough at home against Washington State, overcoming a deficit to best the Cougars, 39-36 in Week 4.

But they unraveled on the road against Texas in Week 3 when the Longhorns jumped out to a big lead in the second half.

The trick will be tapping into that mental toughness they’ve found at the Coliseum when they’re in hostile territory.

To do that, Helton challenged each player to do their part to turn things around by telling themselves, “I’m not going to be the guy that lets my team down.”

“We’ve been exceptional at home and now it’s time to go compete for a great road win,” Helton said.


Reign of Troy Radio Mug

Buy Now!

Buy Now!

Notes and tidbits

  • Change at cornerback?… True freshman cornerback Olaijah Griffin took first team reps on Wednesday, leaping Isaiah Langley and Greg Johnson in the pecking order for a day at least. Johnson and Langley both struggled against Washington State and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said after practice they were simply giving Griffin a look.
  • Two-pronged focus… USC’s two focuses on Wednesday, per Helton, were defensive. The first? Dealing with the tempo Arizona will bring, which “may be the fastest that we’ve faced thus far.” The second? Keeping contain on Khalil Tate, “the most dangerous quarterback we’ll see all season” in terms of creating with his legs and arm.
  • Taking the bait…

    Gap integrity is on the mind of USC’s coaches this week as they prepare to face a zone-read offense looking to trick and misdirect the defense. “You can get caught just taking the bait one time and then you’ve got a guy like Khalil that, if he gets in the second level he’s gone,” Helton said. Complicating matters? Arizona’s offense isn’t a pure zone-read anymore, incorporating a bevy of run-pass options, or RPOs, on just about every run play. That means the Trojans will have the added difficulty of contending with an inside and perimeter option.

    More from Reign of Troy

  • To run or not to run… As much as Tate terrorized teams with his legs last year, he hasn’t presented the same challenge in 2018, with just 31 yards on 23 carries. The dip in production is part-scheme, part-injury related, with an ankle problem dogging the quarterback. Helton said the Trojans are still preparing for him to pop up with 20 carries on Saturday, but his true threat this year has been with his arm, according to the head coach. Arizona’s RPO offense has given him opportunities to see matchups on the outside and take shots downfield. “He does an unbelievable job on the deep ball,” Helton said. “He drops it in the bucket.”
  • When the play breaks down… Another element to Tate’s rushing total has been growing maturity as a quarterback, Helton said. The Wildcat QB is exceptional at getting outside and extending plays. Last year, when a play would breakdown, he would take off and run. Now, he’s looking for other options first. “He’s doing a great job of keeping his eyes downfield this year,” Helton said. “Credit to him he’s progressed as a quarterback.”
  • Turning PBUs into INTs… USC ranks third nationally with 29 pass breakups this year, but the Trojans have yet to grab an interception. Helton isn’t too concerned about that though, explaining on Wednesday that part of the problem is the kind of coverage they deploy. “When you play man coverage, you don’t see a ton of picks,” he said. “You see a lot more in zone coverage.” That doesn’t mean the Trojans aren’t looking to create more turnovers. They tend to come in bunches, Pendergast said, hoping the wave will arrive soon. Helton is hoping too: “Hopefully we’ll get our hands on the ball just a little bit more.”
  • Aim lower… Neither Helton nor Porter Gustin were aware of the controversy surrounding his helmet-to-helmet hit of WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew until looking at the tape. The Pac-12 cleared Gustin of wrongdoing, determining the hit was not targeting, but Helton had a conversation with his linebacker about staying away from further controversy. “He’s a bull in a china shop but we try to aim just a little bit lower,” Helton said.