Clay Helton and Marques Tuiasosopo know how to successfully prepare teams for bowl games.
The USC assistants last season served as interim coaches, at USC and Washington respectively, after USC hired Steve Sarkisian.
Now they are helping Sarkisian ready the Trojans for Saturday’s Holiday Bowl game against Nebraska at Qualcomm Stadium.
“It is a different deal,” Helton said, laughing. “You’ve got a lot more worries when you’re the head coach.”
Barney Cotton no doubt has discovered that during the run-up to Saturday’s game. Cotton, a Nebraska assistant, was named the Cornhuskers’ interim coach when Bo Pelini was fired after the season finale.
Mike Riley was hired to replace Pelini, but Cotton will coach against the Trojans.
Helton, USC’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, was appointed the Trojans’ coach for last season’s Las Vegas Bowl after Ed Orgeron abruptly exited the program. Orgeron bolted when Athletic Director Pat Haden chose Sarkisian as the permanent replacement for the fired Lane Kiffin.
Helton, 42, welcomed the coaching and organizational responsibilities.
“You’re taking a large group to Las Vegas,” he said. “You’re like, ‘OK, not only do we have to win the game, we have to do it in a respectful manner.’”
Helton guided the Trojans to a 45-20 victory over Fresno State.
“I thank Mr. Haden and Coach Sarkisian for that experience because now when you become a head coach, you’ve already done it before,” Helton said. “It was a great learning experience and I walked away from it a better coach.”
During the last month, Helton said he could “totally concentrate on Xs and O’s” as the Trojans prepared for Nebraska.
Tuiasosopo, Washington’s quarterbacks coach last season, took over as the Huskies head coach for the Fight Hunger Bowl in the wake of Sarkisian’s departure from Seattle.
Tuiasosopo, 35, guided Washington to a 31-16 victory over Brigham Young.
“I had a lot more responsibilities on my plate,” said Tuiasosopo, USC’s tight ends coach. “You’re trying to figure out what we’re going to eat, when we’re going to eat. When do we want to go here? When do we want to go there? What’s the curfew? What’s going to happen if someone breaks a rule?
“It was a whirlwind and an unbelievable opportunity and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Sarkisian had a record of 1-2 in bowl games at Washington
Cotton will join Nevada Las Vegas’ staff as offensive coordinator after the Holiday Bowl.
After rushing for more than 100 yards in eight of nine games, USC tailback Javorius Allen was held to 93 or fewer in the last three.
Sarkisian said this week that the decrease was due, in part, to more emphasis on the passing game in the final games of the regular season.
Allen has rushed for 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns. He also has 40 receptions, one for a touchdown.
He leads Pac-12 Conference players and ranks 13th nationally with 148.2 all-purpose yards per game.
“We’re going to need his versatility in his game, running it and catching it, for us to be as successful as we want to be,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian is expecting surprises from Nebraska.
“That’s part of bowl games,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “Everybody runs the trick plays they haven’t called yet. You just have to prepare for the unexpected.”
The Trojans visited SeaWorld after Thursday’s workout…. USC will have a walk-through Friday.
Correspondent Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.