USC football practice notes: Helton lays out Utah matchup

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

Clay Helton previewed USC football’s matchup with Utah on both sides of the ball as the Trojans started prep for the Utes on Tuesday.


As USC football began the week preparing for another key Pac-12 South battle, head coach Clay Helton laid out all the things that stand out about the Trojans’ next opponent: The Utah Utes.

“Coach Whittingham has got his kids playing as well as anybody in our conference right now over the last two weeks,” Helton said, highlighting Utah’s impressive wins over Stanford and Arizona to bounce back from losses to Washington and Washington State at the start of the conference slate.

On offense, the Utes are led by a dependable running game. Zach Moss is averaging 100 yards per game, Helton noted, but quarterback Tyler Huntley is also a danger man with his legs doing damage on designed runs and scrambles.

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The presence of that running attack has created one-on-one matchups in the last two weeks which Utah has taken advantage of hitting their downfield shots, Helton added.

Adding to the dynamic of Utah’s offense is the presence of wide receiver Britain Covey. Helton credited Utah with finding different ways to get the ball in their dynamic playmaker’s hands.

On the other side of the ball, Helton pointed out linebackers Chase Hansen and Cody Barton as the key to Utah’s defense, closing down the lanes between the space-filling linemen ahead of them.

As for the Ute secondary, the Trojan head coach is looking forward to see two future NFL safeties on the field in Salt Lake City.

“I think you’re going to see two of the premiere safeties in the country,” Helton said of USC’s Marvell Tell and Utah’s Marquise Blair.

Notes and tidbits

  • Gustin can’t be replaced… When asked how USC can replace Porter Gustin, Helton had a simple acknowledgement: “You can’t. Just being honest. There’s only one Porter.” The Trojans have players who can go in there in his place and play well, Helton said, but no one is the complete package like Gustin. That’s not to say the linebacker can’t still have an impact on the team. Helton hopes to have him back on the practice field shortly to act as “Coach Gustin.”
  • Who will try?… On Tuesday, the player tasked with filling Gustin’s shoes was Christian Rector, just as it was last year when injury struck. Rector was a midseason All-American in that role, so the Trojans could be in a worse spot when it comes to finding production from the Predator position. Along with Rector, Connor Murphy saw extensive time on the outside. Where that leaves Hunter Echols, who was less of a factor in practice than might have been expected, is anyone’s guess.
  • Deep ball dependent?… Helton didn’t buy into the idea that USC has become dependent on the deep ball on offense. “Each game feels different,” he said, pointing to USC’s 270 yards rushing against Arizona as proof that the Trojans haven’t given up on running the ball. Some games, like Arizona, the run game rolls. Other games, like Colorado, the defense plays with safeties up in the box and matchups on the outside become more viable, he said. Helton credited Tee Martin with taking what the defense has given the Trojans so far.
  • Second half struggle… USC put up just three points offensively in the second half against Colorado, but Helton played that off as a concern. Calling the third quarter “strange” because the defense scored a pick six and the offense lost a drive, the head coach played the lack of offensive production as “a lack of opportunities in the second half.” Being up by three scores after the defensive touchdown also changed the dynamic of the game, Helton said.