Written by Caroline Deisley and Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributors
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The simple but wise mantra rang true to his players as interim head coach Clay Helton spoke before starting his first practice as a USC head coach on Monday. It's been a whirlwind of a season, but for Helton, these next two weeks are a chance to continue the work that was started and finish this year strong with a victory over Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
"I hope I don't mess it up," the head coach joked after leading his first practice. "It's good to have a bunch of guys like this that are all pulling in the same direction. They make it easy along with a great coaching staff. I'm proud to be associated with them."
Coach Helton has had quite the trajectory since coming to USC four years ago after 10 seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Memphis. He began his Trojan career as a quarterbacks coach before becoming the passing game coordinator in 2012 and finally earning the title of offensive coordinator in 2013. While Helton has only ever coached practices as opposed to the game preparation he is tasked with now, he does have previous interim head coaching experience (a short stint at Memphis) that he credits with preparing him for his current opportunity.
One of his biggest supporters is quarterback and team leader Cody Kessler who has gotten to know Helton very well throughout his time at USC. "We've always been close. I've literally spent more time with him than anyone else on this campus, probably even my family," said the quarterback. "I'm so thankful to have a guy like that. A guy who has passion. These coaches have so much passion for the game and passion for the players and they will do everything they can to help us achieve our goals."
Helton will lead the Trojans into battle accompanied by a devoted coaching staff highlighted by special teams guru John Baxter and defensive mastermind Clancy Pendergast. USC faces a tough opponent in the Bulldogs who lead the nation in passing yards per game (409.8) and feature quarterback Derek Carr who leads the nation in total passing yards and total touchdowns amongst other categories. However, adversity is something this team has grown used to overcoming, and Helton emphasized that his coaching staff will work harder than any in the country to prepare the Trojans for their opponent.
Though Coach Helton is the newly titled interim head coach, don't expect much to change. Just one victory away from a 10-win season, the Trojans know that the key to success is sticking with what has worked for them all along. "We are going to be doing the same thing we've done the last eight weeks. We're going to keep the same practice schedule, same meeting schedule, everything will be the same," Kessler assured. "Coach Helton is a great leader. He knows what he's doing. I know what he's about and I know what he can do and I'm excited to play this last game for him."