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UCLA at Southern Cal Coaching and Special Teams Preview: Will Clay Helton Make it 3-0 Versus Jim Mora?

While the coaches have similar records through their first three seasons, Helton has won his previous two meetings with Mora.

Utah v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

In his first two seasons at the helm of Southern Cal, Clay Helton went 5-4 in Year 1 and improved to 10-3 in Year 2. So far, this year, his team is 9-2. It appears likely that Helton will be able to improve on last year’s win total since the Trojans will play in two more games after this weekend. In two weeks, they will play in the Pac-12 Championship Game as the Pac-12 South Champs and then they will play in a bowl game somewhere.

That means that Helton will have taken Southern Cal to more conference championship games in 3 seasons that Jim Mora has taken UCLA to in six seasons.

I hadn’t realized that until now.

While both Helton and Mora have similar records in their first three seasons, it is worth noting that Helton has yet to lose to Mora in two meetings.

The one thing few of us can argue is that, this season, Helton has his team playing much better than Mora has him team playing.

But, Helton is not the only member of Southern Cal’s coaching staff. So, let’s take a look at the team’s coordinators.

Tee Martin is in his second full season as Southern Cal’s offensive coordinator. Last year, Southern Cal was 20th nationally in total offense, 11th in third down conversions, 15th in first downs and 25th in pass offense. Southern Cal had at least 400 yards of total offense in 11 games and scored at least 35 points in 8 games.

This season, Martin’s offense is averaging more than 35 points per game and had at least 400 yards offense in 8 of their 11 games. Probably more importantly, Southern Cal has rushed for more than 300 yards three times this year and at least 150 yards eight times.

On the other side of the ball, Clancy Pendergast is in his third stint with Southern Cal and his second stint as the team’s defensive coordinator. Last year, Pendergast’s defense held opponents to 367.2 yards per game while this year’s team is averaging 401.6. This year’s team is also holding opponents to an average of just 26.45 points per game. The pass defense has performed well under Pendergast with 14 interceptions last year and 15 so far this year.

John Baxter is in his second stint as Southern Cal’s Special Teams Coordinator. Trojan Special Teams have performed well under Baxter. Last season, Southern Cal was sixth nationally in punt returns and 23rd in blocked kicks, blocked punts and kickoff returns. They also blocked 2 field goals and a punt while allowing only 8 of 50 punts to be returned.

Speaking of special teams, let’s take a look at the Southern Cal Special Teams.

Special Teams

Southern Cal’s specialists look a lot different from last season. In fact, this is one area where the Trojans can be classified as average.

Redshirt junior Reid Budrovich is now the team’s starting punter. Budrovich is averaging 44.4 yards per punt on 41 punts this season. His longest punt is 63 yards. He’s had three punts go for touchbacks while 15 have landed inside the 20-yard line. Budrovich has also kicked off 11 times with 8 of those going for touchbacks.

True freshman Chase McGrath is Southern Cal’s placekicker and he’s kicked off 49 times with just 16 going for touchbacks. So, his leg might not be quite as strong as Budrovich’s, at least when it comes to kickoffs.

McGrath has made 49 of 50 PAT attempts and 11 of 15 field goal attempts. His longest successful field goal this season was from 51 yards and all four of his missed attempts have been between 27 and 46 yards.

Velus Jones, Jr. and Jack Jones are the Trojan kickoff returners. Velus Jones, Jr. has been the primary kickoff returner this season. He has returned 24 kickoffs with an average return of just under 25 yards per return and a long of 38 yards. Jack Jones has only returned 3 kickoffs with a long of 31 yards and 4 punts with a long of 21 yards.

Meanwhile, Ajene Harris has been the primary punt returner this season. Harris has returned 10 punts for 58 yards and his long is 21 yards.

All told, the Trojan returners probably don’t fit the definition of “dangerous return men” but that doesn’t mean one of these guys isn’t capable of breaking one in the right situation.

And, that wraps up our preview of the Southern Cal Coaching and Special Teams.

Go Bruins!