Takeaways from USC football’s humiliating Holiday Bowl loss to Iowa

Trent Goodrich
Dec 28, 2019, 9:52 AM PST
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
1 of 3
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2019 Holiday Bowl was one last game and one last brutal outcome for Clay Helton’s USC football team, losing big to Iowa. What happened?

After over a month of turmoil following Mike Bohn’s decision to retain Clay Helton as USC football coach, the “I told you so’s” were out in full force as the Iowa Hawkeyes mauled USC 49-24 in San Diego.

The embarrassing, yet foreseeable, result was just another day for USC Football under Helton.

Here are the takeaways from the Holiday Bowl.

One last bout of defense and special teams errors

You know how the old saying goes for Helton at USC: “If it’s broke, don’t fix it.”

That mantra was on full display Friday night in regards to Clancy Pendergast’s defense, as the Hawkeyes exposed the inability of the Trojan defense to resolve problems that have plagued the unit all season. Iowa had their way on the edge in the running game and took advantage of the undisciplined USC defenders with a multitude of successful trick plays.

Any type of misdirection from Iowa left Trojan defenders with containment responsibilities running the wrong direction, and the linebackers looked sluggish, as they attempted to move sideline to sideline.

Iowa entered the game as a less-than-explosive offense, scoring just 23.8 points per game, with a season-high of 48 points against Middle Tennessee, along with a Power 5 high of just 30 points against Rutgers.

While there was a pick-six and a kickoff return for a touchdown that added 14 points to their score —more on that later— giving up 35 offensive points to Iowa is unacceptable.

The Hawkeyes were putting together long dominant drives too. Their offense had consecutive touchdown possessions of 10 plays for 75 yards, 15 plays for 72 yards, six plays for 52 yards, and 14 plays for 90 yards, before their first punt came 80 seconds before the fourth quarter.

In the third phase of the game, special teams, the Trojans yet again managed to do more bad than good in the final game of the John Baxter era.

After a brilliant second drive by the USC offense, Iowa took the ensuing kickoff 98-yards to the house to re-establish a seven-point lead. The gut-punch was a reminder Helton chose to keep Baxter on staff until the Holiday Bowl, despite claiming the program would follow the Notre Dame model following the 5-7 record in 2018.

The onside kick at the beginning of the second half was an example of why Baxter was considered a great special teams coach over a decade ago, but that time has passed. Punter Ben Griffiths struggled again, while kicker Chase McGrath went 1-of-2 on field goals after uncharacteristically stumbling with his accuracy late in the year.

Fortunately for USC, the Holiday Bowl marked the end of the line for both defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and special teams coordinator John Baxter. But those moves should have come the second the UCLA game ended, if not last year. Helton never appears to do anything in a timely manner.