Clay Helton pushes for better USC practices to end losing skid

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

LOS ANGELES --USCrunning back Aca'Cedric Ware let loose after the 37-14 loss at Texas on Saturday, lamenting poor practice habits and a lack of offensive leadership in consecutive blowout losses.

When the Trojans returned to practice Monday night, it looked as if coach Clay Helton had taken Ware's words to heart. The normally mild-mannered Helton,stressing the need for better practices to avoid critical breakdowns during games, used a few choice expletives to punctuate his speech after practice.

"The one thing that I've learned in 24 years of coaching is your kids are going to react how you react," Helton said. "If you don't show leadership, if you don't show that, 'Hey, we understand exactly what the situation is. We understand the issues. Here's how to fix them. Now let's go get our jaw set and let's go do it.' If you don't provide that leadership, they are not going to do it."

Ware felt it was exactly what USC needs to keep its season from spiraling out of control.

"We need a coach like that, a coach that's going to get on our tails when we aren't doing it right," said Ware, a senior. "I feel like that just motivates us to get better."

USC (1-2, 0-1 Pac-12) has plenty of problems to address before hosting undefeatedWashington Stateon Friday night. It ranks among the bottom 20 FBS teams nationally in average scoring (20 points), rushing (109.33 yards) and tackles for loss allowed (7.83).

Inexperience might be the simplest explanation for the Trojans' second 1-2 start in three seasons. Quarterback Sam Darnold, running back Ronald Jones II and wide receiver Deontay Burnett each entered the NFL draft early. USC had to replace its leading passer, rusher and receiver for the first time since the 1977 season.

Ware said Helton's message had seemingly taken hold.

"It was a lot better," Ware said. "It seemed like everybody came with a chip on their shoulder.

"We can't have no slacking, no laziness. Washington State is a great team, so we know in order to beat them and continue on our plan to win the Pac-12, we've got to continue to get better and that comes with the practices."

The Trojans will continue to be without safetyIsaiah Pola-Mao, whowill have season-ending shoulder surgery Thursday, Helton said. Pola-Mao sustained the injury in the 17-3 loss at Stanford, which left USC with three scholarship safeties available against Texas.