The Clay Helton era is over in Los Angeles after seven years leading the USC Trojans. He ends his tenure just two games into the 2021 season, following an absolute thrashing at the hands of the Stanford Cardinals.
Helton exits with a 46-24 record, and Donte Williams will take over as interim head coach. As he closes his tenure at USC, it seems appropriate to celebrate his time in LA LA Land.
And what better way to do that than reliving one of the Trojans’ best games under Helton.
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A Blast From the Past: The Best USC Game Under Clay Helton
Time to take a trip back to November 12, 2016, when the Trojans headed north to play the fourth-ranked Washington Huskies.
The Trojans started the season with high expectations and a lot of excitement around quarterback Max Browne. He was captaining a ship loaded with future NFL talent that included running back Ronald Jones, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and cornerback Adoree Jackson.
The coming-out party was a huge week one matchup against the Alabama Crimson Tide in AT&T Stadium. But that game went south quickly, ending in a 52-6 loss to the Tide. Ouch!
Because of that start, the Trojans tried to find solid ground for the next three weeks, after taking a massive haymaker to start the season. Browne slowly lost his starting job to up-and-coming star signal-caller Sam Darnold.
So, after three weeks, Darnold took over the starting job in week four. Following a losing effort against the Utah Utes, he led the Trojans on a five-game winning streak. The Cali squad was red hot, headed into a matchup with a flawless Huskies team.
It was billed as a clash between the young star, Darnold, and the veteran, Jake Browning.
A slow start led to a massive second quarter for USC, who scored 14 points to take a 17-6 lead. As good as Darnold and the offense looked, the defense owned the game for Trojans.
Jackson snagged two picks while Porter Gustin, Rasheem Green, and Michael Hutchings lived in the backfield. USC dominated the line of scrimmage, racking up three sacks and six tackles for loss.
As a result of the defensive outing, the pressure was off a young quarterback, allowing the offense to play freely.
Darnold balanced out the defensive masterpiece with a 23-for-33 outing that led to 287 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks. RoJo pounded the rock for nearly 100 yards and a score. Three SC receivers tallied over 50 yards through the air. The top-five Huskies team had no answers for the Trojans at home and in prime time.
A veteran quarterback and experienced defense looked flummoxed and unathletic against USC on every level.
Over seven seasons, Helton had several good seasons and many memorable games.
But this game, above all others, brought the best, most well-rounded performance out of the Trojans under Helton. It was an all-around dominant performance in a massive spotlight, redeeming a team utterly embarrassed on national tv to open the season.
So long Clay Helton, happy trails.