USC football practice notes: Solutions in less practice time, more tape? (10/23)

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

USC football head coach Clay Helton turned heads after the Trojans’ ASU Tuesday practice by talking about less practice time and more critical tape study.

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What feels like a majority of USC football fans entered ASU Week looking for some sort of change to the Trojans routine in response to being blown out by Utah in Salt Lake City.

That’s not exactly what they got.

How does head coach Clay Helton plan to address the subpar run game, which was less the fault of missed assignments and more a product of lost one-on-one matchups up front? Film, not practice.

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“On Monday, we spent less time on the practice field and really were over-critical of the tape,” Helton said. They looked at breakdowns in fundamentals and technique, from pad level, hand and hat placement to first steps and angles.

It’s an interesting strategy for a coach who has already faced regular criticism for his practice strategies, which include just one day in full pads and no live tackling.

“I’m hoping that pays off in practice and hope it pays off on Saturday,” Helton said.

The added focus on details in the tape study will have to yield some amount of improvement this week if the Trojans plan to keep their 19-game home winning streak alive against ASU. USC’s rushing offense is averaging just 116 yards on the ground per game, third worst in the Pac-12.

The task will be complicated enough with third-string quarterback Jack Sears slated to start unless JT Daniels is able to clear concussion protocol before the game.

“If he was cleared [Wednesday] or Thursday, obviously he would go in. If he’s not ready then Jack’s going to go in,” Helton said.

One way or another, USC will be starting a quarterback just coming off a concussion, one who was struggling before the injury, or a quarterback who will be taking his first career snap. It would be advantageous to be able to rely on some semblance of a run game.

At the very least, Helton seems to realize the predicament he is in at the quarterback spot and says the offensive scheme for this week will reflect that.

“We’re going to stay simple, try to play fast with our kids where there’s no hesitation, no confusion and do things that they know,” Helton said.

Notes and tidbits

  • Don’t be fooled… Helton opened his post-practice presser with a warning: “Don’t be fooled by [ASU’s] record.” The Sun Devils are 3-4 and more-or-less out of the race for the Pac-12 South, but all four of their losses have come by exactly seven points against quality opponents like Washington, Colorado and Stanford.
  • Familiar quarterback… ASU’s Manny Wilkins is familiar to the Trojans, having seen him each of the last two years. Wilkins has yet to best USC, but the senior has earned respect from Helton for his athletic ability and arm talent. “His ability to escape and create is impressive,” Helton said, comparing the QB to Utah’s Tyler Huntley. Considering what Huntley did to USC in Salt Lake City, that’s a definite concern.
  • Off his spot… Even though USC had five sacks last weekend, Helton would like to see improvement from the Trojan pass rush. “It’s going to be very very important to get the quarterback down this week,” said Helton.
  • Like Laviska… ASU wide receiver N’Keal Harry reminds Helton of Colorado’s Laviska Shenault as a receiver who will outfit you for the ball in one-on-one matchups. Hopefully that comparison is apt in at least one way: USC is the only team this year to have held Shenault out of the endzone.
  • Aggressive ASU… The Sun Devil defense is an aggressive outfit headlined by safety Jalen Harvey and freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson. With 19 sacks and 58 tackles for loss on the year already, USC will need to prepare for the blitz this week. “They’re doing a good job of being aggressive, rushing five and trying to fool you with the different pressures, so it’ll be a good challenge for our offense,” Helton said.