Cal is headed to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night to face USC, so we sought out the expertise of Los Angeles Times beat writer Brady McCollough to get the lowdown on the Trojans.
Here are his responses to our five questions:
- How warm is the hot seat Clay Helton is on? What do the Trojans have to do the rest of the season for him to return next fall?
The seat is warm, but athletic director Lynn Swann seemed genuinely in Helton's corner when he gave the traditionally dreaded vote of confidence last week. It seems Swann would prefer to give Helton another season with a revamped coaching staff. But if USC loses to UCLA and/or gets blown out by Notre Dame in the Coliseum, Helton may force his hand.
- The USC offense was sharp from the start last week. How much do you attribute that to Helton taking over the play calling and how much simply was that the opponent was Oregon State, against whom Cal scored 49 points a couple weeks ago?
I think the play calling has been better the last two weeks and continued to improve against Oregon State with Helton in charge of it. They're giving JT Daniels more intermediate throws and that is helping them convert more third downs. As far as the running game, though, there's no doubt that was perfect timing for USC going against the Beavers. I'm not sure I have ever seen a defense that poor against the run in my lifetime. If USC can get any consistent ground game going against Cal this weekend, that will be an accomplishment that says something.
- Give us your evaluation of quarterback JT Daniels. How good can he be?
Daniels will be special. He's going through a big adjustment this year but has the right mentality to push through it and follow through on the potential he showed at Mater Dei in becoming the Gatorade Male Athlete of the Year.
- Aside from injuries, how do you explain USC’s less-than-terrific defensive performance this season? They rank near the bottom in the Pac-12 in most defensive categories and, amazingly, have just two interceptions all season.
Injuries are definitely part of the problem but can't be used as an all-encompassing excuse. USC seems undisciplined and out of position too often. Even before this season, the Trojans were too susceptible to the big play and that is certainly still the case. Clancy Pendergast's 2-4-5 system could be part of the problem, and it's possible Helton would feel pressure to make a move there in the offseason.
- As crazy as this season has been in the Pac-12, the Trojans can still win the South. How do you think that unfolds?
As wild as it sounds, I think USC wins the South. I think they find a way to beat Cal, which won't challenge them enough in the passing game defensively, and UCLA next week. I expect Oregon to beat Arizona State and Utah down the stretch here.