Whistles blew, speakers blared and football coaches yelled and screamed as usual at Howard Jones Field Tuesday. Despite the disappointment that was USC’s 32-point loss to No. 7 Oregon Ducks Saturday, much remains the same at the Trojans’ football practice.
However, given the current state of USC football, change may be exactly what the Trojans need. After USC’s loss to the Ducks, its record now stands at 5-4 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-12.
As its chances for a Pac-12 Championship dwindle and calls for head coach Clay Helton’s firing grow louder, the team admits there is an added element of motivation this week as it prepares to play conference-foe Arizona State on the road this weekend.
Freshman running back Kenan Christon, who ran the ball 15 times for 79 yards against Oregon, said the team is more focused on making a comeback rather than dwelling on the loss.
“It just gives us a kick-start,” Christon said after practice. “We come out of the weekend, [and] we may be down after that game, but we know we got to get back to work on Monday. We don’t like that feeling so we’ve just got to get right back to it and make sure it doesn’t happen again … I think it gives us players a little more drive and a little more attitude.”
Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Jalen McKenzie echoed Christon’s sentiment.
“Honestly, it’s like a 24-hour rule,” McKenzie said. “[We] deal with the loss, correct everything we saw that we were doing wrong on film and then we get right back to the grind the day after. The day after [the game], we got started on ASU.”
Unlike some of his teammates, freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis maintained that even after the loss, the team’s general mindset is more or less the same as it was prior to the Oregon game.
“I think we’re pretty motivated regardless of what happened in the past week,” Slovis said at practice. “If it’s a win, you’re more motivated to win the next week because you know you’ve got a chance to win the South. If you lose, you’re just that much more motivated to stay in it. So I think it’s the same regardless.”
Handling the Noise
After Tuesday’s practice, President Carol Folt and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Rick Caruso were seen speaking with Helton.
The image underscored all the headlines and rumors surrounding USC’s football program in the wake of last weekend’s blowout loss at the Coliseum. Unrest from Trojan fans with Helton’s performance seems to have reached an all-time high and rampant speculation as to his future replacement has begun en masse.
In the face of all this criticism, Helton chose not to dwell on the controversy surrounding his job and instead highlighted the support he’s received from Folt and Caruso.
“[Folt’s] support and Mr. Caruso’s support has always been there, and I’m appreciative [of it],” Helton said. “That’s one of the great things about being part of the Trojan Family. Obviously this is a production-based business and you want wins, but those people have always been great to me … To see them out here today supporting this team and this staff meant a lot to me.”
In addition to recognizing Folt and Caruso’s support, Helton also emphasized the importance of keeping his team’s attention on the field rather than the headlines.
“We do a great job of outside noise staying outside,” Helton said. “This is our family right here, so let’s focus on us. Let’s focus on nothing that’s outside but us — right here, right now in this moment for three weeks because these three weeks dictate our season. We’ve always trained ourselves not to worry about the outside noise or what’s going on.”
Junior running back Stephen Carr ran Tuesday but did not practice. According to Helton, Carr says he is currently about 90% and will probably return next week if not this week.
Freshman defensive lineman Drake Jackson was back at practice after suffering a sprained ankle two weeks ago against Arizona. He will continue to be evaluated.
Sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga cannot be put in contact situations yet but is progressing, according to Helton.