Coaches discuss upcoming Pac-12 Championship game

Junior running back Ronald Jones II hurdles a Stanford defender during USC’s first game against the Cardinal this season. Photo by Brian Chin | Daily Trojan

With the Pac-12 Championship Game in Santa Clara, Calif., mere days away, USC head coach Clay Helton and Stanford’s David Shaw discussed a number of topics in a media teleconference call Monday morning. Here are the highlights.

On USC’s offensive playmakers

Shaw: We knew going into it that [redshirt sophomore quarterback] Sam Darnold is outstanding, [junior wide receiver] Deontay [Burnett] is an explosive receiver [and junior running back] Ronald Jones is an explosive runner … We missed a lot of tackles in that first USC game, and once again, it’s not just us missing them. Their guys were over there making you miss. Jones [II] runs through contact — he’s got that great ability to cut and get vertical and run through arm tackles. It’s going to be on us to know where our help is, set our feet, tackle with our chest, wrap up and play great, disciplined coverage.

Helton: The wideouts are really performing over the second half of the season: the development of a [redshirt freshman receiver] Tyler Vaughns, a [sophomore wideout] Michael Pittman on the outside, getting [redshirt sophomore tight end] Daniel Imatorbhebhe back to compliment [junior tight end] Tyler Petite, to get a [redshirt senior wide receiver] Steven Mitchell back healthy and really performing. The most growth we’ve had is in the offensive skill and receiver positions.

On USC’s bye week before the game

Shaw: If anybody in the country deserved it, it’s [the Trojans]. They went 12 straight weeks without a bye, playing nine conference games and Notre Dame. It’s brutal. So I know they’ve appreciated it and been able to recover a little bit.

Helton: I appreciate our team and our kids for really going through that challenge and coming out on the other end always looking at it as a positive — that if we got to the Pac-12 Championship game that would be our bye. Probably the biggest factor for us is we were a tired and beat up football team that needed a week to regroup and get healthy. After yesterday’s practice, that happened for us. We’re not all the way there yet, but we’re in a lot better position than we were a week ago.

On the game being so near to Stanford

Shaw: The fact that we don’t have to travel is huge because a short week and travel is very difficult. We’ve been looking at it … in our conference, and the percentages for winning a short week road game are miniscule.

Helton: I think our fans travel really well; they always have. I know we’ll have a bunch there. We’re just an hour’s plane ride [away]; they’re 17 miles [away]. I don’t think it’s a huge factor.

On Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello

Shaw: The bottom line for him is he’s got fire, he’s got passion, he’s got a strong arm [and] he’s an accurate passer. Once in a while, just like any other quarterback, he gets a little excited and maybe the footwork isn’t perfect, maybe the ball isn’t thrown right where it’s supposed to be — but there are times during a game where he will push up in the pocket and throw the ball as well as anybody.

Helton: K.J. has done a really nice job of stepping in, making the most of his opportunity and really protecting the football while hitting explosive plays downfield. We’ve watched K.J. grow up. He’s a Southern California kid — an extremely arm-talented kid that will pull the trigger, will anticipate and get rid of the ball. I think they’ve developed exactly what David wants to have: a fabulous run game with a quarterback that hits his shots down the field.