We caught up with USCFootball.com Publisher Ryan Abraham in anticipation of Saturday's matchup between Arizona and USC:
WildcatAuthority.com: Since the firing of Steve Sarkisian, Clay Helton has taken over and led the Trojans to a 2-1 record so far. How have things changed for the team since Helton took over?
USCFootball.com: I think it would be difficult to implement too many changes in such a short amount of time, but similar to two years ago when Ed Orgeron took over there have been some subtle changes. One thing that was popular was allowing parents to return to watch practice once a week. Player parents were allowed to watch during fall camp, but when the games started Steve Sarkisian shut that down.
Helton has also implemented limited practices on Monday for some of the players who don't see a lot of playing time in an attempt to help their development. Maybe the most important change he has made is bringing back more of a family atmosphere. He has talked about it and players have also mentioned it and so far they seem to be responding well to it.
WA: USC's biggest offensive threat, Juju Smth-Schuster, is injured and his status for the game on Saturday is still uncertain. If he doesn't play, what do the Trojans miss about him the most and how do they try to compensate?
USC: Juju Smith-Schuster leads the Pac-12 in receiving yards and if he is unable to go it would be a huge blow for the Trojan offense. When the chips are down and Cody Kessler is under pressure, he usually looks to Smith-Schuster. On many occasions Smith-Schuster would be double covered, but Kessler would throw the ball his way anyway and somehow he would still make the catch.
The next two receivers in line, Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell, have also been banged up - both played against Cal but were limited. One guy to watch out for is true freshman Deontay Burnett who switched from WSU to USC on signing day and ended up blueshirting. He lead the team in receiving yards last week with three explosive plays and he comes from Serra High school like several other recent USC stars.
WA: The Wildcat defense has battled injuries all season and doesn't seem to be getting better as the season progresses. How do the Trojans take advantage of the weaknesses early in the game?
USC: The recent trend for this USC offense has been to run the football, so that is where I think the Trojans will try to take advantage. The Arizona defense hasn't looked the same since Scooby Wright (and other linebackers) have been out, so I would expect a steady dose of Tre Madden, Justin Davis and true freshman Ronald Jones.
The X-factor there is Ronald Jones, who has been so electric with the ball in his hands. Jones got banged up against Cal but it didn't appear to be serious. The knock on Jones is that he never had to pass protect or catch the football while in high school, but I think the USC coaches are fine with those shortcomings because of what he is able to do when Kessler hands him the ball.
WA: Arizona's offense has been off and on all season and has sputtered recently. Rich Rodriguez has been using a two-quarterback approach to combat the issue. How does USC prepare for two different quarterbacks and how big of an adjustment will be made when either one is in the game?
USC: Up until last week Arizona led the Pac-12 in offense, so even though there were some up and downs, the Wildcats were doing something right. As far as preparing for two different quarterbacks, I don't get the sense that will be a huge part of game plan for the Trojan defense.
With Anu Solomon in the game the Wildcats are a much bigger thread to throw the ball than with Jerrard Randall, but my guess is USC will prepare for what they see from Solomon and then try to make some in-game adjustments if Randall makes another appearance. The knock on the USC defense has been the lack of aggressiveness, but that has changed a bit since Helton took over.
WA: What are the keys to the game for USC and what is your prediction?
USC: I would say the keys to the game for USC are the ability to run the football, stop the run and win the turnover battle. The past two games the Trojans have forced eight turnovers while not turning the ball over and it has really been the difference between winning and losing. USC has been on a roll, but if the Wildcats are able run the football and force a few turnovers the Trojans could easily lose this one. When it all comes down to it I think the Trojans will run the football effectively and be able to control this game and get the home win against a struggling Arizona squad.