USC Now mailbag: Oregon, Clay Helton and Ronald Jones II

USC freshman running back Ronald Jones II has rushed for 771 yards this season and six touchdowns this season.

USC freshman running back Ronald Jones II has rushed for 771 yards this season and six touchdowns this season.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A buzz has returned to USC.

If the Trojans defeat Oregon and UCLA, they will make a trip to the Pac-12 Conference championship game in December.

What are the chances? It’s going to be close.

Realistically with the injuries we have, what are USC’s chances of beating Oregon? Why is Cody Kessler not putting up better numbers? Why doesn’t SC take deep shots down the field to at least make the defense respect our receivers?

— Cass Brown


Against Oregon, USC should be more concerned about the loss of inside linebacker Cameron Smith than it should be about the losses on offense of linemen Max Tuerk and Toe Lobendahn and tailback Tre Madden.

Oregon runs a high-power, fast-pace offense and Smith has led USC in tackles and interceptions. His production will be difficult to replace and the environment at Autzen Stadium will make it doubly difficult for sophomore Olajuwon Tucker, who is likely to make his first start.

The loss of Tuerk, Lobendahn and Madden shouldn’t be downplayed, however, Oregon’s defense isn’t exactly intimidating.

The Ducks’ total defense ranks last in the Pac-12.

They have allowed an average of 491 yards per game. Their passing defense is statistically the worst in the conference and their rushing defense is in the middle of the pack, allowing an average of 317 yards and 173 yards per game, respectively.

Interim Coach Clay Helton has established a run-first identity on offense. That could be what is affecting quarterback Cody Kessler’s numbers and it could also be what has lead to USC’s four consecutive victories.

I’d expect that Helton will establish the run game with Justin Davis and Ronald Jones III against Oregon, then Kessler will make one throw, deep, to JuJu Smith-Schuster to open it up.


Is Ronald Jones II looking any better in pass protection?

— Dewayne Chase, @DChaseMD

Ronald Jones II has rushed for a team-best 771 yards and six touchdowns in 108 carries.

But the freshman is quick to admit he must improve his pass-protection and ability to make catches out of the backfield.

Jones continues to focus on those skills during practices.

He blew a coverage last week at Colorado and appeared to hear about it from Cody Kessler on the sideline.

Oregon should provide another test.

As an alum, I am amazed by the bad choices that Pat Haden has made with respect to the last two coaches. And, the fact that some team members want Clay Helton to be the next coach is understandable because he represents security (After all, they are “kids” away from mommy and daddy.)

But, this -- USC football -- is the Big Leagues: The millions of dollars that are impacted on the school, community, Pac-12 and bettors (yeah, I’m in Las Vegas) demands that a top-tier person fill the coaching vacancy. He MUST be the reason for top recruits to commit to ‘SC rather than to any other school.


Whatever has to be paid to attract and keep the best will be repaid many times with a successful coach.

— Don Chase, USC class of 1960

Pat Haden was responsible for the hiring of coach Steve Sarkisian, but not Lane Kiffin, if that’s who you are referring to as the last two coaches. Though Haden probably could have handled Kiffin’s firing better.

And I couldn’t agree with you more, that USC football is in the upper-echelon of college football. USC’s head coaching position should be able to attract — and sign — a top name and the program should be willing to pay top dollar.

But in the event it cannot, Helton would be a solid choice. He has provided stability, led the team to four consecutive victories and has made positive changes within the program.

You can’t blame the kids for wanting stability and if Helton wins the final two games of the season, you can’t blame USC if he becomes the permanent head coach. He will have earned it.


Player loyalty is a positive trait and it demonstrates the trust they place in interim head coach Clay Helton. His coaching style is a relaxed one, wanting the players to bond, to have fun and “Players have said practices are shorter, with more of an emphasis on competing and less of a focus on game-planning for the opponent.” Game planning is a critical coaching element and should have the highest priority because without a great game plan, a team might lack total focus from the start of the contest until the final gun.

As Trojans fans, we have seen two slow starts recently and the coach waits for the team’s athleticism to take over and to compensate for the lack of solid game plan on both sides of the ball against tough opponents; this coaching philosophy will not work against Oregon and UCLA because both of those teams will be prepared to play against the Trojans strengths and both will be totally motivated to win from the moment of the kick off until the final whistle. All one can do is hope for the best and say, “Fight On!”

— Daniel C. Garcia

Daniel, you might be taking things too literally. It’s not all fun and team dinners under Helton.

Of course, Helton continues to game plan for opponents, but with less of an emphasis on opponents during practice, players are able to play faster and more physically. That has translated to games.

The defensive line has recorded 19 sacks in the last five games — almost twice as many as it did in the first five games.


USC appears motivated to win, exemplified by comeback victories against California, Arizona and Colorado.

The Trojans must learn to start faster, but for now, fans should be happy with wins.

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