LOS ANGELES — With yet another loss signaling more and more questions about Clay Helton’s future at USC, the Trojans’ head coach said Saturday night that he still feels like he’s the right person to lead USC’s football program.
Bristling when asked why he felt he should keep coaching the Trojans, Helton defended himself following a 56-24 blowout loss to No. 7 Oregon in the Coliseum.
“I’ve been here 10 years, and I believe in being a servant to this university, and to the young men that are here,” Helton said. “Each and every day I wake up and I represent them and our school; and I will continue to do that, each and every day. And I’ll fight like hell with the people that I believe in and the people that I love, until they ask me not to do it anymore. And I’m gonna show up on Monday and work my butt off for the next one.”
The loss drops USC to 5-4 on the season and 4-2 in Pac-12 play, which now puts the Trojans a game behind Utah in the Pac-12 South Division.
Though the Trojans own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Utes – beating them 30-23 back in September – they’ll likely need to win out and would need Utah to lose at least one of its three remaining games to UCLA, Arizona or Colorado, none of which have a winning record to this point.
“We still have a lot to play for and we still have to keep fighting and finish out the season, get to a bowl game and whatnot,” center Brett Neilon said. “We just have to come together and keep fighting and keep playing.”
Regardless, this loss, in which the Ducks went on a 56-7 run, will only intensify talk surrounding Helton’s job security, as he’s coming off a 5-7 season — the program’s first losing season since 2000 — and is currently 37-21 as USC’s head coach.
Oregon’s 56 points were the most a team has scored on USC since Arizona State scored 62 in Tempe, Arizona, in 2013. It’s also the most given up by the Trojans at home since Oregon scored 62 in the Coliseum in 2012.
While USC players said they were blocking out distractions pertaining to Helton’s future, some said they were focused on playing for each other, not Helton’s job.
“For me, I’m playing for my teammates and for everybody in that locker room,” linebacker John Houston Jr. said. “This is for ourselves and getting ourselves better, not worrying about the outside factors or anything else.”
Added quarterback Kedon Slovis, who threw three interceptions and a pick-six that shifted the momentum to Oregon in the second quarter: “We don’t listen to outside noise, just move on to the next game and next play, really. That’s our mentality and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
Jackson originally didn’t want to comment on why he felt Helton was the right coach for the Trojans, but said “I love him to death.”
“We came here to play for coach Helton, so, obviously, that’s the guy you want to play for,” said Jackson, a junior. “He’s doing a great job leading us.
“He’s a great coach.”
Neilson stood by Helton, as well.
“Coach Helton is a great coach and he’s good for the players,” he said. “We all love him and we’re going to keep fighting [for him].”
While Saturday’s loss could be heavily attributed to the momentum the Ducks gained from scoring 28 points on four USC turnovers, it would be easy for this team to also point to the rash of injuries it’s suffered this season — on both sides of the ball. But players didn’t want to play the “what if” game with their health, instead turning to their sloppiness, undisciplined play (eight penalties for 92 yards) and lack of execution.
“We’re expected to win, no matter what,” Rector said. “We’re SC, we’re a big-time program and we expect to come out victorious, no matter the circumstances.”
But going forward, the circumstances surrounding Helton and his time at USC will only magnify, especially with the school expected to name Cincinnati’s Mike Bohn its new athletic director.
One of Bohn’s first acts will be assessing Helton’s job, but Helton said he isn’t concerned with his future. His mind is on his team and staying in the Pac-12 hunt.
“I’m worried about helping them with the Pac-12 South championship and trying to win a Pac-12 championship,” he said. “Whatever is written is already written; God already has that plan. Until then, I’m in a dang fight and help them to try to win the Pac-12 South. We’re in a hole right now. We’ve gotta do our job and win the next three games and hope for a little help.”
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe