“Outside the Pocket” is a column by Sam Arslanian about USC football.
The number of USC fans online who want head coach Clay Helton fired after every loss could fill up the Coliseum. Imagine that, a full Coliseum. Trojan Nation is quick to dismiss its team after a loss; it is unbelievable.
If USC loses, Twitter becomes a firestorm of “fire Helton,” “fire Graham Harrell,” “fire Traveler,” and “bring George Tirebitter back from the dead, so we can fire him too.”
Trojan Nation is one of the most passionate fan bases I have had the pleasure of observing and being a part of. Fans should expect nothing but the best from USC, but the constant negativity towards any and every person of authority is ridiculous.
After the Trojans most recent loss to No. 17 Washington, the Twitter hellstorm filled everyone’s timelines on cue.
Yes, Saturday was a tough loss. USC struggled to move the ball and interceptions were plentiful. It is incredibly frustrating, but can we look at this rationally?
USC is down to its third-string quarterback in redshirt junior Matt Fink. The defense was missing sophomore cornerback Olaijah Griffin and sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanaga, both of which have been forces to be reckoned with this season.
Even without their star defensive players, the Trojan defense was able to bear down for most of the game. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and his squad held USC in the game and gave the offense plenty of opportunities to bring the game back in USC’s favor.
If USC has freshman Kedon Slovis or sophomore JT Daniels in at quarterback, USC would have a much better shot against Washington. Fink is a great quarterback and he has done a solid job filling in, but running the air-raid offense against top-tier competition that is dropping eight players back requires pinpoint accuracy and good reads.
Cut out one or two interceptions deep in Washington’s territory, and USC can make that game a lot more interesting.
USC’s defense can hold this offense in games against tough competition. They did it last year and are doing it again this year. The offense has shown its inability to be a dual-threat, but each game the running corps has been improving. Redshirt freshman Markeese Stepp looks better than ever.
The reality that fans choose to ignore is that USC is close. Like last season, the pieces are there; Helton just needs to put them together. USC’s upcoming bye week will be important for both recovery and team strategy. They will likely be able to rehab Slovis, Griffin and Hufanga.
It’s incredibly frustrating after a loss to hear Helton regurgitate the same answers to the “Helton post-game presser bingo card,” but he’s not Mike Leach. Helton’s commentary will never be the outbursts we see from Leach. Instead, fans will almost always be left with: “All credit to (insert opponent); our boys fought like warriors. We will fix the mistakes.”
USC fans are frustrated, it's clear to see that. Firing Helton is not the answer, and it won’t be for a while. Urban Meyer isn’t waiting on the steps of Heritage Hall. It’s wishful thinking, but the school doesn’t even have an athletic director.
Trojan fans, stay along for the ride. A loss to No. 17 Washington does not ruin the season. How quickly do you forget USC knocked off then-No. 10 Utah? When this team is healthy and the air-raid is in action, they have a fighting chance against top-tier teams.
Defenses will challenge USC to run the ball. BYU and Washington both did that by rushing three or four guys and dropping the rest.
If USC’s running backs continue to improve, any upcoming conference game can be a victory. A Pac-12 championship is not out of the picture for USC. The Trojans could win out in conference play. It’s not probable, but it is possible.
Oregon is the toughest conference competition left on the schedule. Fortunately for USC, they play the Ducks at home, as the Trojans won just two road games in 2018 and haven’t won one in 2019.
A loss to Notre Dame in South Bend is projected, and a loss to Oregon is probable. But winning the remainder of the Pac-12 games would put USC at a 7-2 record in conference — that looks like a pretty good record.
Helton isn’t going anywhere unless USC falls in a similar manner to last season. Don’t mistake this column, Helton is definitely still on the hot seat. Aside from Notre Dame and Oregon, Helton has to be perfect.
Trojan Nation, you may get your wish, but not right now. Helton still has life at the helm of USC to prove his worth.
“Outside the Pocket” runs every Monday.