USC football practice notes: “Tremendous opportunity” vs. Notre Dame (11/20)

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

USC football’s upcoming game vs. Notre Dame is a “tremendous opportunity,” said Clay Helton as the Trojans look to move beyond a difficult season like pros.

MORE. Storylines to Track vs. Notre Dame

USC football has a “tremendous opportunity” this week, according to head coach Clay Helton.

“We’re all disappointed in where we’re at right now,” Helton said after USC’s Tuesday practice ahead of the Notre Dame game. “But one of the things that I feel from the team is they want to be able to do something special for our seniors, our team and our university.”

That something special would be pulling off a miraculous upset of No. 3 Notre Dame, both clinching a bowl berth and potentially preventing the Irish from earning a berth in the College Football Playoff themselves.

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Playing for the Jeweled Shillelagh always creates an exciting atmosphere, Helton said.

There may not be a championship on the line for the Trojans, but they can still play like it. To do so, USC will have to improve greatly from last weekend’s disappointing loss to UCLA.

“We treat each week like it’s a championship week and I really have been pleased with how they prepped today,” said Helton.

Part of that process involves “Tell the Truth Monday,” when the Trojans dissect the previous game and take responsibility.

“We look ourselves in the mirror and we can all do things better. Every one of us from players to staff to everybody,” said Helton.

There have been many harsh “Tell the Truth Mondays” this season, but Helton argues the difficult season has created the opportunity for a valuable lesson.

“It’s taught me how important leadership is during adversity,” Helton said.

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He hopes his players have seen how pros react when things aren’t good, not pointing fingers but shouldering the blame and believing it’ll get better.

“Better days are ahead, and I’m looking forward to them,” said Helton.

Notes and tidbits

  • E.A. at the WILL… Palaie Gaoteote practiced at the weakside linebacker position next to Cameron Smith with John Houston sidelined by a hamstring injury. The five-star freshman started two games at middle linebacker in place of Smith earlier this season.
  • Impressed by Ian… Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book has impressed Helton with his efficiency, leadership and decision-making since taking over the starting job in September. Book’s 72.6 percent completion rating ranks second nationally.
  • Best front seven… Helton did not temper his praise of the Notre Dame front seven: “Without question I think it’s the best front seven that we have faced to date.” The head coach specifically mentioned defensive lineman Jerry Tillery as a player who has gotten better and better each year, along with “four or five” dynamic NFL players in the front seven. Facing that front, which is capable of stopping the run while only rushing four, the Trojans will have to be patient, but not hard-headed when it comes to rushing, Helton said.
  • Getting to Spring Camp… The season is not yet done, but Helton is already looking forward to Spring Camp, specifically because it will be a chance to advance JT Daniels as a quarterback. The freshman has only experience one camp so far and in that one he was embroiled in competition. The coming Spring and Fall Camp will be a chance for him to develop. “He’s learned so much this year already. To be able to get him to a spring camp and another fall camp, it’s going to be leaps and bounds where he’s going to be at.”
  • Offseason goals… What specifically will Daniels be working on this offseason? Helton said his focus will be on improving his core strength, footwork in the pocket, ability to throw on the run and making post-snap decisions, which is already the area he has grown the most in this season.
  • NFL decisions… By this time next week, Helton will be having conversation with USC’s NFL eligible players about their upcoming decisions. Last year, the Trojans had 10 players submit for an evaluation, but Helton doesn’t expect so many this time around.