Gerard Martinez |

Figuring it out, now to finish

Adoree' says he might be back and Stevie T. knows he won't. But if the Trojans can keep preparing the way they've figured out they must, the way they did for Utah and since, that may be the biggest story out of Wednesday.

On the day after JuJu Smith-Schuster said he was 50-50 on coming back next year, Adoree' Jackson followed with talk Wednesday that he's got things to accomplish here and you just never know how this might go.

But that was followed by Adoree' heading out the gate and as he crossed the street, saying he "wasn't thinking past this weekend," where his "goal was to contribute as much as I can and give people something to remember me the last time in the Coliseum . . .  THIS SEASON."  . . . And one more thing -- "to help us be the best team we can be and get to the best postseason bowl or playoff game" the Trojans can get themselves to.

No long range thinking here. It's all about this week. Just the way their coach would want them to be thinking.

And that takes us back to Utah week, of all places, when Clay Helton saw this team, the team that ESPN''s power ratings say is playing the best in the nation over the last two months considering all phases of  controlling football games. And Vegas has USC up to No. 3  And it's clear, if Kirk Herbstreit had his way, the Trojans would be in the playoffs as of this week and certainly not out of the top seven by any way of comparison.

So how in the heck did this happen? Clay says he saw this coming the way USC prepared for an effort that fell short Week 4 in Salt Lake City for a 1-3 Trojans team that had Clay on the cusp of not seeing a second season.

"It really was that week of preparation," Clay says, "They went out and prepared the right way. I saw how well they prepared and realized we just had to sell them on that the rest of the way."

Which is why Clay said he felt so bad for them. They did everything right that week except for that long last game-losing drive allowing a third-and-10 and third and 15 conversion and coming up 16 seconds short.

They did something else, of course. They picked redshirt freshman Sam Darnold to lead them. "I don't ever think you could say he was going to have this kind of season," Clay said. "But the good thing is we'd gotten to see him the first three games of the season and we knew the stage wasn't too big for him."

But was it too big for his head coach? That was the question.

A lot of people thought they knew the answer to that one. For a senior group saying goodbye to USC Saturday, Clay was just one of their four head coaches and despite his three different terms -- two as interim head coach, one as head coach, he had the thinnest resume. And the most questions.

But he stuck to his guns. He's not the same guy who handled that Las Vegas Bowl back in 2013. Or even the guy who stepped in at midseason a year ago during Notre Dame week. He's learned a lot in a short time.

"Poise," Clay says of the first thing this season taught him, "and not to panic." He didn't. He was sure this team was about to get it right in a career that has had him at USC for "the best seven years of my life. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Saturday, on Senior Day, "We'll start how we've been," Clay says of a USC team that "is more together than any team since I've been here" -- on offense, defense and special teams. And he'll "make sure every senior plays," he says with "the challenge now to finish December."

"These guys are the ultimate in battle-tested," Clay says, "and now they have the opportunity to do something special going unbeaten in October and November and in the Coliseum

But this isn't about him, Clay says, or even his coaches who "have done a great job." It's about the players. They made it happen. They listened and learned and wanted to be the team they all thought they could be.

Stevie T. says it's coming all to soon for the 25-year-old grad student transfer whose bet on USC seems to be paying off. Although it's coming too quick. "It's weird," says Stevie, who arrived in August and is saying goodbye in November -- to the regular season, at least.

Last week, he wished the rivalry game and his time in the Rose Bowl would have lasted a bit longer. "I didn't get too feel the whole thing [against UCLA] , it was over too soon. But we had to do what we had to do."

And now there's one more chance to say goodbye, at the Coliseum, against archrival Notre Dame.

Here's Stevie's veteran advice for the Trojans: "We have to play like we have everything to lose because we do have everything to lose."

Wednesday footnoted

On the biggest difference in sophomore running back Ronald Jones, who has rushed for 893 yards on the season now after a strong November, Clay says: "There's an extreme air of confidence with him now. You have some success and it snowballs. He not only accepted but lived up to the challenge. I see a guy now who's happy playing the game of football."  . . . Stevie T. says this Notre Dame offensive line is "bigger, thicker" than the Pac-12 teams USC has been playing the last two months, "more like Alabama's line." . . . No real injury report except for Clay's comment that the trio of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and Josh Fatu were all back . . . looks like freshman DB Pie Young still out on concussion protocol . . For more play-by-play from Wednesday's practice, go to WEDNESDAY NOTRE DAME WEEK GHOST NOTES.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at

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