USC Football: Changes stood out in the Trojans’ win at Oregon State

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

Clay Helton’s USC football team went into Corvallis and got a much-needed victory beating Oregon State 38-21. So has the boat stopped taking on water?

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Saturday night in Corvallis was a must-win game USC needed to keep their faint Pac-12 South hopes alive, along with making sure they get bowl eligible. And the Trojans did a fantastic job, bouncing back, smothering a bad team in their own stadium and winning, 38-21.

The win could be signs of what’s to come, or it’s a possible symptom of a desperate coach’s final moves.  Let’s dive deeper and take a look at what stood out from Saturday’s victory over Oregon State.

The Good: The Offensive Line

Clay Helton made the right move firing Neil Callaway and handing the offensive line back to Tim Drevno. The improvements were evident. Yes, Oregon State is a bad team, but the scheme was different.

My No. 1 frustration with USC and their ground attack was always Tee Martin’s affinity for the inside and outside zone runs, with big bodies up front moving sideways and creating perfect lanes for defensive lines to penetrate the backfield and blow up running plays. Saturday night in Corvallis, we witnessed a lot more of what USC should be doing, and what USC does well. Power. Power running, pulling a guard, pulling a tight end, pinning down and kicking out. They’re things that fit the talent and their running backs much better.

It’s not that zone runs don’t have a place in the USC playbook, it just leaves little room for error. If one of the tackles or tight ends struggles with a block in the zone run game, the ball carrier is forced to make a move early, causing them to stop, change direction and allow for the defensive pursuit to come and clean up the play. Those can go for a huge loss and kill a USC drive.  When you pin down and kick out, a missed block doesn’t mean the play is condemned.

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Look at Aca’cedric Ware’s 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Tight end Tyler Petite got beat inside off the snap. If it’s a zone play, that defender collides with right tackle Chuma Edoga and you have a pile that Ware has to try and evade in the backfield. But, since it’s a power play, Petite just rides the defender down inside, while Edoga also pins down, allowing for right guard Andrew Vorhees to get to the inside linebacker. Then, left guard Chris Brown does his job as the kick-out man and the rest is cake for Ware, who eats up all 62 yards.

The Quarterback Decision

The USC offense did not look any better strictly because JT Daniels was back at the helm.  And at absolutely no point did he do, or show anything in the framework of the offense that proved he deserved to be running it.

Sears could’ve done everything Daniels was asked to do Saturday, while USC’s downhill run game could reach a different level with his ability to pull the ball and become a legitimate running threat.

Helton’s Changes Stood Out

We’ve all seen USC’s first eight games. Callaway and Martin could have been relieved of their duties after Colorado. Helton must have seen the writing on the wall for a couple of weeks now, but he’s smart enough to know that if he’s going to quiet the noise around him, he needed a result. That became the week USC played the worst team in the conference, Oregon State.

Helton didn’t reinvent the wheel this week, but did what he has always done when taking play calling duties. He boiled the offense down to what USC does well and ran those plays over and over. When you do that against Oregon State, it results in 38 points and looks a lot better than it has in recent weeks.

Now it looks like Helton has set the table for a chance to finish the year strong and put the struggles of the program this year on Martin and Callaway.

It’s not a bad plan. The only problem is that I have zero faith that the offense we saw tonight has the ability to put up 300-yard rushing performances against teams that are not Oregon State. Especially without a quarterback who is a legitimate threat to run the football.

Though, I guess it wouldn’t be USC if they didn’t leave us a reason to tune in next week.