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Thursday, October 3, 2013
How will Clay Helton affect USC's offense?

By Greg Katz

LOS ANGELES -- During Sunday afternoon’s hastily-called press conference on the firing of Lane Kiffin, new interim USC head football coach, Ed Orgeron briefly touched on the Trojans' offense, informing the masses that offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Clay Helton would be the new play-caller.

So who is Clay Helton, and how different a play-caller and schemer will he be compared to Kiffin, who will be remembered by disgruntled fans as the game-day coach who seemed hopelessly buried inside his huge Denny’s menu of plays?

Helton seems genuinely excited and enthusiastic for his new challenge and responsibility.
“I look forward to this opportunity as a competitor,” says Helton, 41, who also was the offensive coordinator and play caller at Memphis (2007-09) and is now in his fourth season as quarterback coach for the Trojans.

In fact, as offensive coordinator, quarterback coach, and the play-caller at Memphis, Helton’s 2007 and 2008 offenses were among the top six in school history in total yards and points. Those Tigers teams were also ranked in the top-26 nationally in total offense.

Clay Helton
Expect a few new wrinkles to USC's offense now that Clay Helton is in charge.
Helton’s Memphis quarterback during that historic run, Martin Hankins, became the team's No. 2 career passer and set single-season records for completions, passing yards and touchdown passes in 2007.

If you think that Helton is exclusively married to the passing game, just dig a little deeper. In 2009, Helton’s top rusher at Memphis, Curtis Steele, recorded his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.

So how does Helton’s background affect this USC offense he's in charge of?

Perhaps a hint of what’s in store came from Orgeron during this week’s Pac-12 coaches’ teleconference. “Obviously, we want to keep it simple, but we need to move the ball around and put it in different players’ hands and get back to playing good, solid football on offense.”

Ask Helton about the Trojans offense, and he’ll give you a preview on what’s possibly to come.
“We’re not going to give away the full game plan to this,” smiled Helton. “We have a system to this that has done some good things the past three weeks like running the ball and being able to push the ball downfield. We look to get better and throw in a new wrinkle or two.”

And?

“We’re going to establish the mentality of our head coach, Coach Orgeron, in being able to run the ball and play-action off of it,” Helton added.

From a player’s perspective, it appears that Helton has the backing and confidence of some of the valued members on offense.

Sophomore receiver Nelson Agholor, who may be one of the main beneficiaries of the new offensive vision, simply said, “Helton calls great plays.”

Starting junior center Marcus Martin added, “Coach Helton will do great as our offensive coordinator. He’s already tweaked some things here and there on offense and sometimes change is good.”

Where will Trojans' fans find Helton during games? Will he be in the press box or on the field?

“Coach O and I have [had a] lengthy discussion about it, and I really feel it’s really important to be on the field with the players and be right there with Cody [Kessler] and be with our offensive players to discuss things,” Helton revealed. “So I’ll be downstairs right now.”

Orgeron confirmed that the sideline is the best spot for Helton, as the offense goes into a personnel transition following the departure of Kiffin, who was dismissed from his position following the landslide loss to Arizona State last Saturday night in Tempe.

“We don’t want any miscommunication, and I think we can communicate better,” Orgeron said. “I think it’s 50-50 being in the box or the sideline, but I think in our case for him to come down and manage the sideline is going to help.”

With Helton on the field to communicate better with Kessler, offensive line coach Mike Summers and the wide receivers.

“One of those national championship quarterbacks, Tee Martin, who has read more coverages than I have in his days and completed a lot more balls than me,” Helton said. “He’s done a great job, and I have total trust in him. He’s got great vision, and between himself and James Cregg, they’ll be able to ID the coverage very easily.”

So given the fans' frustration with Kiffin’s play-calling, it appears that Helton is ready to give a fresh look to the sequence of offense. There is now a real sense of intrigue, excitement and enthusiasm on the offensive side of the ball.

It’s now Clay Helton’s call.