Uninspiring And Ugly. USC Trojans Lose To Stanford As Clay Helton’s Seat Remains On Fire

USC Trojans vs Stanford Cardinal at the Coliseum. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | LAFB Network
USC Trojans vs Stanford Cardinal at the Coliseum. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | LAFB Network


That’s the first word that comes to mind after watching the USC Trojans fall to the Stanford Cardinal. Take a drink if you’ve heard this before; from the start, Stanford just looked like the better coached team. They beat USC in just about every phase of the game. They were more disciplined. They were better on 3rd down. They didn’t make critical mistakes. They created big plays. They converted in the red zone.

USC did pretty much the opposite. Outside of a couple of drives, the offense could never get in a rhythm. The red zone struggles continued. They were constantly playing a long field.

It was a beatdown, plain and simple.

Slovis Slump?

Kedon Slovis finished the game 27-42 for 223 yards with one touchdown and one interception. It wasn’t a bad game for Slovis, but it was another just “meh” outing. Not a performance that gets you excited or even thinking about the first round of the NFL draft. With all the hoopla surround Coach Helton, the play of Slovis has been talked about far too little.

After a tremendous freshman season, Slovis just hasn’t looked like the same quarterback, dating back to last season. Is this on him, or play design? Like with most things in life, it’s a little of both.

There were a multitude of times tonight where the protection for Slovis was very good, but no receivers could get open. Credit Stanford’s secondary, but a lot of times this can be attributed more to route combinations. There were also multiple dropped passes, and the interception that he threw went off of Drake London‘s hands directly to a Stanford defender.

You definitely cannot put this loss on Slovis by any means, but for some reason, the confidence and swagger that he had his freshman season just doesn’t seem to be there lately. He has the tools and the talent to get back on track as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, but he is going to need to start making some splash plays and putting the offense on his back.

The air raid offense is all about rhythm, and that starts with the QB. He needs to do a better job of getting the ball out quicker and succinctly, and Coach Graham Harrell needs to give him better route combinations so that he can find an open receiver.

Defensive Regression?

With the offense struggling last week against San Jose State, the defense shined only allowing seven points and forcing multiple turnovers. This was not the case on Saturday night. USC was unable to contain the explosive plays and was unable to force any turnovers. Anytime it seemed like they were able to get a quick stop, a penalty extended the Cardinal drive.

I don’t think effort was an issue for this defensive unit, but execution certainly was. Too many wide open receivers and gaping holes in the running game. Stanford had a very balanced game plan on offense, and they executed it to perfection. Tanner McKEE, the former 4-star recruit out of Centennial, looked like a veteran in his first start for the Cardinal. He was able to dice up the Trojans secondary to the tune of 234 yards and two touchdowns, and he was able to stay clean pretty much the entire evening.

This defense is predicated on taking chances. Unfortunately, the chances taken on Saturday night were not capitalized on.

Clay Helton Era Drudges On

It’s no secret how the entire fan base feels about head coach Clay Helton. There is no understating the man that Coach Helton is, but as it has been stated over and over again since his tenure began, he is not the coach to lead the Trojans back to national dominance.

He was able to put together a really strong recruiting class in 2021, but Saturday night was the same song and dance and the team started out flat and got beat in every phase of the game against what should have been a lesser opponent.

In Helton’s post game presser, one quote really stood out. He said multiple times, “…this is Week 2. We will get things corrected, and at the end of the year I think we will have a successful season…”

This is the mentality that has fans so frustrated. Right, wrong, or indifferent, a loss in Week 2 to an unranked Stanford team all but ends USC’s hopes for the College Football Playoff. They could run the table and really turn things around and make their case for getting in with the one loss, but that hasn’t happened very often since this format was adopted. So how does Coach Helton define success?

I have no doubt that he wants to win and take back the west, but the standard should be the College Football Playoff, not a chance to compete for the PAC-12 South. That’s the problem.

But it’s unlikely that anything changes this season. We will see if the Trojans can rebound next week against Washington State.