It did not matter what Iman Marshall actually thought about the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against him late in USC’s loss to California that cost the Trojans a third-down stop and a chance to get the ball back for a potential game-winning drive.
“I was talking,” Marshall said. “Everybody talks. It’s football. What else can I say? If we can’t talk, we can’t say anything, what can you do? That’s it.”
Regardless of whether the call was justified in such a crucial moment, Marshall had to live with the frustration of knowing his decision to jaw at the Golden Bears’ sideline Saturday night hurt his team and, ultimately, his embattled head coach.
Marshall met with Clay Helton earlier this week and told him that he would like the opportunity to address the Trojans at their Monday team meeting.
“He was like, ‘Coach, obviously that’s not what I want a younger player to learn. I got caught up emotionally,’ ” Helton said. “He said, ‘I’d love to be able to apologize. I want the young guys to know that’s what happens when you play in an emotional game. You gotta be able to keep your composure.’ ”
Helton prepared some clips to play for the team of Marshall’s penalty and an earlier unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on freshman wide receiver Amon-ra St. Brown as a teaching point. After the clips were played, Marshall, a senior cornerback, took the floor.
“I addressed the team, apologized for my actions,” he said. “That did have an effect on the game, and that’s it.”
Said redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jay Tufele: “Having Biggie apologize to us, it means a lot. Because, you know, during the moment, things can get rough. But knowing that, understanding that he’s a senior and he knows what he did was wrong, having him apologize to us is just really great. And I think that a lot of younger guys are going to learn from that and hopefully that never happens again.”
Helton came away impressed with Marshall’s handling of the situation.
“I thought it was phenomenal,” Helton said. “I thought it was really a class-act move, a pro move, a veteran move, a captain move, by Biggie.”
Marshall came back to USC for his senior year to improve his draft stock and appears to have done so. Pro Football Focus, which keeps detailed analytical stats on college players, said prior to the Cal game that Marshall was second nationally among cornerbacks in yards allowed per snap in coverage at .44.
He was asked about the penalty possibly tainting his superb final season as a Trojan.
“At the end of the day, people are going to feel how they feel,” Marshall said. “I can’t really be controlled by that. All I can really do is just play my game, play football, and all the people that are going to love and support me are going to do that.”
Marshall said at this point in the season he is trying to appreciate every day he gets to step onto the field.
“It means a lot,” he said. “Next week it’s my last time playing in the Coliseum, and this is the last time playing against UCLA. Those are big games. It means a lot, and it’s bittersweet.”
Fink could be available
Helton said that backup quarterback Matt Fink, who broke three ribs in the loss at Utah, has a chance to be cleared to play Saturday if something were to happen to starter JT Daniels.
“We’re not allowing him contact right now,” Helton said. “We’re trying to get the rust off him. I’m gonna talk with the doctors at the end of the week. He could play if needed but the man had broken ribs. I’m gonna be very careful.”