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USC’s turnaround at ASU began in the trenches

By in Press Enterprise on October 30, 2017

By Joey Kaufman

When he spoke with reporters a day after USC’s 48-17 rout of Arizona State, Coach Clay Helton started with one observation.

“It was abundantly clear the game was won in the trenches,” Helton said.

If any of the Trojans’ fans had missed the victory, the declaration might have come as a surprise.

A week earlier, when the Trojans were thumped by rival Notre Dame, they were overmatched by both the Fighting Irish’s offensive and defensive lines. On that night, USC mustered only 76 yards on the ground, including minus-4 in the first half, then saw its defense allow 377 rushing, representing the most in three seasons.

At Arizona State, it ran for a season-high 341 yards and allowed only 79 yards to the Sun Devils, the best effort by its rush defense in Pac-12 play.

What changed?

Helton suggested his players performed better, especially on offense.

“I thought there was a physicality, and great fundamentals and technique,” Helton said. “Where we had a couple physical beats the week before, I did not see that this week. I thought the kids did a great job of being able to hang onto that first level block up until the second level.”

Center Nico Falah added afterward that the coaches had “proper plays and a good gameplan.”

Helton said his assistants made adjustments.

“When there’s any issue, they’ve been able to make corrections,” he said.

While the Trojans bottled up Arizona State running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, it helped their their front seven welcomed back defensive tackle Josh Fatu and outside linebacker Porter Gustin back from injuries. Neither started, but rotated in.

The defensive front also, Helton said, had better “gap control.”


With Steven Mitchell limited because of a shoulder injury, sophomore receiver Michael Pittman caught a pair of passes for 23 yards in his first career start at Arizona State.

Pittman almost had […]    

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