After sputtering to a 37-14 loss in Austin and dropping out of the Top 25 rankings, the Trojans regrouped at Howard Jones Field on Monday to start a damage control effort. With a 1-2 record weighing heavily on the practice, head coach Clay Helton’s demeanor was different as he marshalled practice.
Helton spent the whole day with the offense, stalking between his players, barking orders that echoed across the field. He dropped at least eight “f-bombs” in his post-practice huddle. He grinned wryly as sophomore left tackle Austin Jackson tangled with a scout-team linebacker, tossing a punch and shouting until he was dragged away by two teammates.
“I like it,” he shouted as the two players broke apart, already laughing, and the team roared with cheers as they lined up for the final snaps of practice.
For senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware, the change was much-needed. After the Texas loss, Ware complained that the last two weeks of practice had been too relaxed, but Monday was more his speed. He complimented Helton for getting in players’ faces and pushing them harder than normal, saying that he saw the energy affect the entire team.
“It seemed like everybody came with a chip on their shoulder,” Ware said. “I’m satisfied with today.”
A main focus of the day for Helton was the running back unit, which rushed for negative yards against Texas. This was the first time the Trojans recorded negative rushing yards in a game since 1999.
Offensive coordinator Tee Martin said that it was hard to pinpoint the source of the rushing problems — in the opening two games of the season, the passing game was the weak point of the attack, with freshman quarterback JT Daniels throwing only one of the team’s five touchdowns this season.
In hopes of kick starting the rushing game again, Helton tailored 80 percent of practice to focus on running drills. Despite the struggles that the team had with these plays over the weekend, the team reacted well to the emphasis on Monday.
“The biggest challenge is two back-to-back road games; two physical, emotional games, I was really looking forward to seeing how they were today,” Helton said. “I thought they came out here and competed their butts out. I think they played extremely well.”
Helton’s other main focus is keeping his team focused on the future rather than the past. Despite the letdown of the Texas loss, the Trojans have only five days to transition before facing Washington State at home on Friday night. The last time the two teams met on a Friday was last season, when the Cougars pulled off an upset.
This year, Washington State will bring a speedy defense paired with a stalwart pass-heavy offense, helmed by quarterback Gardner Minshew II, who has already thrown for 1,203 yards and eight touchdowns this season. For the Trojan defense — which is struggling with injuries and suspensions at the safety position — this pass-heavy offense will force the defensive line to step up to create pocket pressure.
Helton confirmed on Sunday that sophomore kicker Chase McGrath is out for the season with a torn ACL. He will undergo surgery within the next two weeks. Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao is also out for the season after suffering a dislocated shoulder in the Texas game. His surgery will take place on Thursday, and he will face six months of recovery afterwards.
Sophomore right guard Andrew Vorhees returned to full activity in practice after straining his knee during the Texas game.
Helton could not provide a status on sophomore safety Bubba Bolden, who has been benched for the entirety of the season for undisclosed reasons.