UCLA Football Preview: Clay Helton Still Leads Southern Cal
But he made a big change to his defensive staff after last season and it's paid off. Meanwhile, on special teams, Southern Cal resembles an early 90s sitcom.
It’s Beat $c Week. It’s that one week each year where half of Los Angeles hates the other half even more than usual and it will culminate in Saturday’s football game between the Bruins and Southern Cal which will kickoff at 4:30 pm on ABC.
Heading into this week, Southern Cal is the Pac-12’s best chance to make the College Football Playoff, following two losses by Oregon, but the Trojans were only ranked 20th in the CFP Rankings last week and it looks doubtful that they will be able to crack through even if they run the table in the conference.
Of course, UCLA has the opportunity to knock Southern Cal out of the Pac-12 Conference game by beating them on Saturday.
So, this morning, we begin our previews of Southern Cal with a look at the coaching staff and special teams of the Trojans.
Southern Cal is still coached by Clay Helton, even though he was under fire last season and many Southern Cal fans and alumni wanted him gone. But Southern Cal AD Mike Bohn opted to keep Helton after last season’s disappointing 8-5 record.
But Helton fire defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast after the Trojan defense was ranked 78th in total defense last year.
Todd Orlando was hired to replace Pendergast as the Southern Cal defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Orlando spent the past three seasons in the same role at Texas. In 2017, Orlando’s defense was in the top 10 nationally in rushing defense, third down defense, fourth down defense, defensive touchdowns and interception TDs and they moved up 51 spots in total defense. In 2018, the Longhorns only allowed 131.4 rushing yards per game.
So far this season, the Southern Cal defense has played well. They are only allowing 21.8 points per game. Based on this, Saturday’s game could prove to be a defensive struggle rather than a shootout.
Offensively, Graham Harrell is back for his second season as the Southern Cal offensive coordinator. Harrell’s offense is average 33.3 points per game and 424.5 yards per game. That’s similar to UCLA’s 32.6 points per game and 430.6 yards per game. The big difference is the fact that Southern Cal tends to attack more through the air than on the ground. The Trojans are averaging 313 yards through the air and just 111.5 on the ground. By comparison, the Bruins are averaging just 203 yards passing while they are averaging 227.6 rushing yards per game.
To us older people, the name of Southern Cal’s placekicker has a decidely 90s feel to his name. That’s because Parker Lewis shares a name with a Ferris Bueller-like character from the 90s sitcom “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.” Well, so far this season, he hasn’t. In fact, he’s been extremely good for a true freshman college kicker. He’s 7 of 9 this season on field goals with a long of 48 yards and he’s made all 16 extra point attempts.
On the two field goal attempts he’s missed, one was from 28 yards against Arizona and the other was on Sunday against Washington State from 31 yards. So, it seems like he’s most likely to miss from about 30 yards than longer range.
Lewis will also handle kickoffs. Only eight of his 26 kickoffs have been returned. Two went out of bounds and the other 16 were touchbacks.
Punting duties will be handled by 28-year old sophomore Ben Griffiths from Australia. Griffiths has been very effective for Southern Cal. He’s punted a total of 12 times this season and eight of them have landed inside the 20-yard line. Half of his punts have been fair catches and five of them have been longer than 50 yards.
Amon-Ra St. Brown has been the primary punt return man for Southern Cal, catching five of seven punts teams have kicked to the Trojans. He’s also split time on returning kickoffs. Despite his speed, St. Brown has not broken one off for a touchdown…yet.
Olaijah Griffin and Gary Bryant, Jr. are the other guys who have returned kickoffs for Southern Cal. Griffin has the Trojans’ longest return of the season at 27 yards, but he also has the lowest average return at 17.33 yards per return. Meanwhile, Tyler Vaughns is the Trojans’ other punt returner and he has had Southern Cal’s longest return this season, which was 15 yards.
The Trojans are known for having a top receiver corps and that’s what makes each of these returners dangerous on any return. The Bruins cannot afford to suffer a breakdown on special teams with the ball in the hands of Southern Cal’s receivers.
Go Bruins!!! Beat ‘$c!!