Sark gives Helton playcalling duties

5 captains -- Kessler, Tuerk, Sarao, Cravens and Woods -- named on a day when the big news is that Sark will be giving himself more time to be the head coach this season and give up the primary playcalling.

He was hoping we'd ask but we almost didn't. Credit Michael Lev of the Orange County Register for tiptoeing into the question of Steve Sarkisian. Would there be any changes, he wanted to know, in the way USC does things going forward.

The big grin on Sark's face gave it away. There was news coming. Real, legitimate news.

"Clay Helton would assume the play-calling duties," Sark said. It's something they'd been working toward since the spring although there were a number of signs that it may have started before that -- like in the Notre Dame game.

No matter. Helton, the offensive coordinator who runs the offense during the week at practice will handle it on the weekends on game day. Although Sark reserved the right to chime in at any time especially "on third down and in the red zone."

But this came out only after a discussion with the five new USC captains announced after Saturday's 100-play mock scrimmage that clearly hadn't caused the first of them, quarterback Cody Kessler, to work up a sweat.

Cody was joined by center and roommate Max Tuerk and three defenders -- junior Su'a Cravens and seniors Anthony Sarao and Antwaun Woods.

"They all deserve it," Kessler said of the extra captain on the defensive side. "A pretty cool thing," Sark said of a "vote that was so close."

Pretty cool for Helton, who did the playcalling duties during Ed Orgeron's interim reign in 2013 and for the Las Vegas Bowl when Helton himself took on the interim duties.

But even better for Sark, and not just because of what happened last Saturday at Salute To Troy. "I want to be more of a head coach," he said. "I want to be able to celebrate with Adoree' when he scores instead of having to go back to the play sheet."

Which is exactly what happened in the closed scrimmage "when Iman [Marshall] got an interception" and Sark got to "jump up and down and celebrate" along with him.

But this is about more than fun and games. It's about being able to drop into all the position group meetings, Sark said. It's about how Sark said "I can be on the headset with [defensive coordinator] Justin [Wilcox] more" and encourage him to go hot.

It's about halftimes when he can do all of the above without having to figure out the playcall sequence to start the third quarter.

It's about being able to talk to the officials -- "not just yell at them" Sark said with a smile -- and not have to call your athletic director down to do it for you.

It's about knowing that as much as you say as Sark did, "I love calling plays," it's much more about the second half of that sentence: "I want to be a great head coach."

Now he'll get the chance. That it also answers a number of his critics at what might be absolutely the best time to do that is a bonus. It also takes Sark out of the line of fire when a playcall goes awry.

It's a win, win, win, win deal here. And one that Sark's friend, predecessor and playcalling colleague Lane Kiffin never got around to doing until they took that giant playsheet -- and everything else -- from his stubborn no-longer-head-coach hands.

5 for 2015


"It means a lot coming from the lockerroom," Cravens said of his election as captain along with two other defenders -- Sarao and Woods.

"They all really deserve it," Kessler said, welcoming them aboard. But he was maybe even more welcoming USC's freshmen. And saying he wasn't worried about them looking past Arkansas State next Saturday.

"For our freshmen, every team we play is the Patriots," Kessler said with a smile. "Our freshmen have been great . . . they're awesome . . . they don't have egos . . . they're so humble . . . and so hungry."

But "we weren't perfect," Sark said. There were substitution issues on special teams and defense and the first muffed snap of the fall."That's why you do this," he said.

As for the offensive line, "We're still figuring that out," Tuerk said, "with six or seven guys who can play . . . who are great players." Any more details, "You'll have to ask Coach [Bob] Connelly," Tuerk said.

As for the depth chart that will be released Sunday, "There will be some 'ORS' on there," Sark said, "more than you've seen."

Especially on defense, if Saturday is any guide. "We played a lot of guys," Sark said. As for the depth chart, it's not going to stop with the ones and twos, Sark said, noting that safety is one of those positions where "they're all going to play," with the exception of the injured Ykili Ross.

One advance depth chart note: walkon Alex Wood has won both placekicking jobs -- kickoff and field goals, although that doesn't mean blueshirt Matt Boermeester won't get to do some kicking, Sark said.

And just because Justin Davis is no sure thing to be back next week at tailback, "We're stacked at running back," Cody said. The good news there is Ronald Jones II was back and feeling much better after a bout of homesickness, Sark said. "He played a lot today," Sark said.

And finally, one more chance for the players to stand up behind Sark. "It was never something that distracted us," Su'a said. But what about watching all the coverage on TV, all the national previews this week that covered Sark's Saturday at length -- how do you not hear that, Su'a was asked.

Simple, he said. "You just change the channel.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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