Finish: USC must do what it didn't last year

USC's Trojans couldn't come close to finishing off a second-half Stanford team -- twice in 2015 -- despite leading in the third quarter in both games only to get run out of two buildings. That has to change, Clay Helton says.

Clancy Pendergast says he's seen some of the two USC losses to Stanford from a year ago "but not in full, just some of the different [video] cutups" he said of watching the entire games.

Not that any USC person would want to see Christian McCaffrey & Co. carve up the Trojans for 41 points in each after trailing in the third period to win going away.

No reason to do so, USC's defensive coordinator said. "It's a completely different defense with different guys doing different things . . . this is a new year. I wasn't here last year."

But Clay Helton was and if you ask him what happened, he can almost do a play-by-play on the Pac-12 championship game. "All of a sudden we got up," Clay said after Ronald Jones' 27-yard run for a 16-13 lead and USC's second TD of the second half.

"And they get a third down, third and five, and here comes McCaffrey, on a USC linebacker, and there he goes, for a chunk of his record 461 all-purpose yards. Then USC fails to convert on a third-and-one thanks to a personal foul making it third-and 16 and Stanford scores again. And again on a fumble return recovery.

"It turned that quick," Clay said. And now here he is again, in the person this week, wearing that black No. 5, freshman Velus Jones trying to replicate the "lightning quick," McCaffrey, Clay said, "a great runner and receiver . . . definitely worthy of the Heisman."

Which is where Clancy comes in. "I always thought he does a great job of taking away a team's strength," Clay said. But the challenge is "making the decision to stay back or come up," against McCaffrey. Each has its own downside. "You've got to mix and match. He's the weapon."

"He's a lot to deal with," Clancy said. "They give you a lot of things with him," lining up as he did last year, here, there and everywhere.

Then there's this USC defense, not at all like last year's despite the return of so many now in different spots doing different things. Clancy listed some of the ones who've jumped out for him since his arrival.

"There's Chenna," he said of SAM linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, "he's explosive, even in the weight room," as his pass batdowns show, "and he jumped into a new position."

On the front line, the biggest overachiever is Malik Dorton, Clancy says. And that role of most improved on the back line, "[Iman] Marshall has jumped up the most."

But there aren't lots of names on Clancy's lists. After all, he is the guy who beat a No. 4 Stanford team in 2013, his only time going against them, with 12 players on defense the entire game. And this year, he's said he'll be satisfied if he can "find 13 or 14 who can play . . . We're trying to give our team the best chance to win. We'll get the best players out there."

One of those is senior Leon McQuay, experiencing new life as the nickel back under Clancy. "He started for me a few games as a freshman," Clancy says. "He has a unique skill set. I'm proud of him."

He's also proud of late summer arrival Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, the 340-pound grad student transfer from Utah who upped his grade from a B to a B-plus after watching the Utah State film. Stevie says it's time for someone in the conference to step up and challenge Stanford and "it might as well be us."

Stevie also had high praise for JC transfer Josh Fatu, whose play has allowed USC to return Khaliel Rodgers to center from the D-line now that Fatu has shown his "quick-twitch skills," Clay said. "He did a pretty good job. I'm comfortable with him coming in . . . " either for him or beside him."

Wednesday footnoted

Marvell Tell and Zach Banner both returned to play Wednesday, Zach from the flu bug, Marvell from a followup concussion exam. Both are good to go Saturday  . . . D-lineman Noah Jefferson is less and less likely to be back from his AC sprain after missing another practice . . .  Adoree' Jackson said they're still his team -- and "still the St. Louis Rams for good and for bad" to him although if they don't get with it, he said, the folks in his new hometown of LA are going to start "popping on them" . . . of the one NFL scout's comment last week that JuJu Smith-Schuster was "the most overrated NFL prospect," Adoree' said simply "I don't think so, I go against him every day" but that "I don't ever look at what other people say, I'm not hoping to please anybody but my family and me" . . . Max Browne, on his day to talk since he has class on Tuesday, said he's "been here enough for this game to know that it's going to come down to a few points." . . . For a play-by-play of today's practice, go to WEDNESDAY STANFORD WEEK GHOST NOTES.

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