Four games to go. Four, as Clay Helton calls them, "championship games" . . . four "playoff games."
Every single thing matters for a 5-3 USC team (3-2 in the Pac-12) that has no wiggle room, a predicament not all -- or even mostly -- of their own making but real nonetheless.
A skidding Arizona Wildcat team (5-4, 2-4) here Saturday at the Coliseum (7:30 p.m., ESPN) for Homecoming. Then it's off to a resurgent Colorado Friday night. Good news is it looks like the weather won't be too bad.
Then to finish back-to-back roadies up North, it's off to Eugene for the Ducks in weather probably better suited for, well, Ducks.
Nice scheduling, Pac-12. Go North and go at night in November. Geniuses. Next: spring training in Alaska.
And as much as USC fans like the direction this is all headed right now, it has to keep on keeping on. Can it? Will it? And if so, how?
Best way to maybe get a fix on this is to listen to the Trojans talk about where they are and where they're going and how they plan to get there.
And thanks to our own Shotgun Spratling, who has been there this past week taping Trojans talking, we can let you see what they're saying about the road ahead.
*** WR COACH TEE MARTIN on what has to happen from his position group now if Juju Smith-Schuster isn't back right away: "Just do what they are doing. They are making plays. Deontay Burnett, true freshman. Jalen Greene, De’Quan Hampton, Steven Mitchell . . . we have enough to go around to get the job done. I’m excited about where they are."
*** TEE AGAIN on Burnett making big catches on the road: "They always say ‘never scared.’ He’s a young man that the moment is never too big for him. He almost plays better in big games. I like where he’s at. A true freshman that showed up in training camp. He’s making some key plays for us on offense. Cody [Kessler] trusts him and we trust him as a staff. He has a bright future."
*** LB SU’A CRAVENS on USC's increased physicality the last two weeks: "I think it’s [that] we’re just tired of giving up 200 yards on the ground. That’s never how things are supposed to be and when teams are trying to attack you on the ground to start off, as Cal did to start this game off, you’ve got to take it personal. Once you carry that physical attitude, it’s all good."
*** O-LINE COACH BOB CONNELLY on the message he's been preaching that came through in the Cal game: ". . . since I got hired last spring, coming in and finishing the second half. It’s a very, very important situation for us to play . . . I talk to my guys all the time about packing their lunch for 60 minutes and finishing a game. Never ever get too high. Never ever get too low. And let’s fight our tails off for 60 minutes and give ourselves a chance to win the football game. The nice thing was the defense played extremely well today, gave us some opportunities, gave us some more opportunities and when it counted, we capitalized."
*** CONNELLY AGAIN on how Khaliel Rodgers handled his first start at center: "I thought he handled himself well. He stayed composed. Again, he was presented some difficult situations with them maxing the box and playing a safety down, creating another defender for us to block, which changes his targeting on some schemes. We weren’t perfect. We weren’t clean, but it’s a great teaching moment . . . You can coach a little bit harder after a victory."
*** WR JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER It's not just his hand that hurt, he was saying after the Cal game: "One play I got hit on the thigh in the same thigh that is contused. Every time I go head up, nobody is going to go head up with me. They are always going to go for my ankles or my thighs, so that one hurt and then Cal’s turf was horrible. Every time I planted . . . when I was warming up, I rolled my ankle and I rolled it like two times, both ankles, so I had to get it taped and still then, it was hurting. I couldn’t . . . I don’t know how they do it."
*** JUJU AGAIN on his sideline talk trying to get back into the game with his broken hand: "I was arguing with almost every coach. ‘Why? Why?’ Arguing with doctors. They were saying, ‘No, we need you for the rest of the season.’ Arguing and then one of the coaches snuck in and took my helmet away, so I was mad."
*** TB TRE MADDEN on the wide receivers blocking for him: "D-Rog had a great block. They practice that every week and throughout the season, we’ve seen it in our big plays from JuJu to DRog to Steve Mitchell. That’s just what we practice and it comes up all the time in games."
*** TRE AGAIN on the best feeling coming out of the Cal game: "Ending it with the offense on the field. That’s the way we want to do it."
*** WR DARREUS ROGERS On finishing up with the offense on the field: "That’s how we practice . . . Out there, it just felt like it was practice. It was nothing new to us. Everyone is going to play USC like it’s a big game and we prepare for it to like it is a big game."
*** LB JABARI RUFFIN On his expanded special teams role: "I really do take pride in special teams. It's no different than defense. It really sets up with field position. It gives us an opportunity to get turnovers for our team . . . but this year I’ve noticed that due to me not getting as many snaps on defense, I really have stepped up in the role on kickoff, kickoff return . . . that’s like really fun. Really fun. Try to knock a guy down if they try to block you. Try to knock the ball out and get great field position. Set the tempo for the game . . . if there’s a big play that just occurred on special teams, it really gives us momentum and I realize that, so it’s been fun."
*** D-L DELVON SIMMONS on how the team is responding to Clay Helton: "He’s just a positive coach. We all love him. We’re buying into what he’s telling us we’ve got to do to get it done. I feel like that helps us. Just wanting to work hard for the man and get it done for him and also your teammates. Just the positive attitude around here and just wanting to work hard. Coming out here and competing everyday and getting the job done."
*** SIMMONS AGAIN on forgetting what happened to get Clay as interim coach: "Nah. We’ve always got to think about that just so we have that bad taste in our mouth just to remind us that we don’t ever want to go back to that. I don’t think that we’ll forget it. I think it’ll be there just to motivate us more."
*** OL ZACH BANNER on Helton changing USC to a running team: "With the type of players that we have, we should be. When you have as big of an offensive line and as good as running backs that we have, a great quarterback and great wide receivers that can throw the ball over their heads when they’re not anticipating pass, that’s how it is. You run the ball and get the safeties in the box and then throw it over their heads. That’s just good football. It works. Stop the run on defense, on the other side of the ball, you get us the ball faster that way. Then we get to manage the clock and run the clock out . . . Think you’d see a time where you run the ball twice as much as you throw the ball? . . . It’s good. Like I said, Coach Helton knows what he’s doing."
*** DB KEVIN SEYMOUR on watching the offense finish the game on the field: "It was fun. It was definitely fun. It was kind of nerve-wracking."
*** OL VIANE TALAMAIVAO on last week's finish: "We made a decision consciously that when we got on the field, we weren’t going to get off until time ran out and the game was over. It was great. It was great to finally do what we preach. The whole emphasis this year has been on finish and we did just that at Cal. It was cool."
*** S CHRIS HAWKINS on Helton's multitasking: "He’s helping the offensive Scout team get us right during the week. He’s not just on all offense. He’s on both sides of the ball helping both sides of the ball.
*** ADOREE' JACKSON on young DBs coming around: "It’s great. I’ve seen [Isaiah] Langley develop a lot from when we started in camp, playing with good patience and good technique out there. When he’s alone on the island out there, that’s big for a freshman who probably doesn’t get in as much."
*** BANNER AGAIN on finishing off games on the ground: "It’s something we should have been doing for the past two years. It’s something we should have done last year against Utah at Utah. It’s something we should have done last year against Arizona State instead of having to force our defense . . . They work their tails off. I think we should reward them by showing them how we’re going to pound the ball down their throats until the time runs out . . . It’s good to know that we have an offensive coordinator that is going to run the ball, that trusts us. Coach Helton literally tells us every single time, ‘We’re going to run the ball behind you.’ And it feels great."
*** JUJU AGAIN on what's driving this USC team: "It just shows that we have so much passion for our head coach. It just shows that we would do anything, whatever it takes, to beat any team that comes in our way. Next we got Arizona. It’s Homecoming. It’s a home game, so we’ve just got to be ready. For us to, for Clay Helton to be our head coach, we’ve just got to keep winning games."
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