All Ball Sports: To Helton gone, Ram House hurrah, prep breakdown

Sea Hawk Connor O'Neal blasts past a Bishop Diego defender. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor                                              

USC Head Coach Clay Helton was fired Monday afternoon. 

It was about time.

Indeed, it was long overdue.

After the ugly, unexpected and unwelcome 42-28 loss to unranked Stanford Saturday night, all but the most die-hard Helton fans were forced to accept three self-evident truths that are so glaringly obvious even Stevie Wonder could see them.

First, The Trojans would never return to the glory days of old as long as Helton was the head coach.

Second, alleged star quarterback Kedon Slovis peaked as a freshman two seasons ago and is getting worse year by year.

And third, the top two college quarterbacks in the nation are both from SoCal – but one, Bryce Young, plays for Alabama, and the other, D. J.  Uiagalelei, plays for Clemson.

That never would have happened back in the Coach Pete Carroll days. They both would have picked USC and battled for the USC starting quarterback job. The winner would have been a contender for the Heisman Trophy and the loser secure in the knowledge that he was next in line for the most prestigious quarterback position in all of college football.

USC football was locked in a vicious downward spiral where the more Helton tried to coach up his players, the worse his team got. And the worse his team got, the more the top players in the Southland – the five-star recruits, the best of the best – decided they wanted to go somewhere else, typically to the Southeastern Conference, which has become the dominant football region in the country.

The Pac- 12? They’ve become second-rate, an also-ran in the minds of most top recruits. And that goes double for USC, which had been the flagship franchise for Pac-12 football, but was now lost in a miasma of mediocrity under Helton.

Indeed, hard-core USC football fans had come to recognize certain patterns in a Clay Helton game, traits that had become his signature. The most prominent trait: too many penalties, too much sloppy play, and a predictable, pitch-and-catch offense without any real running game.

Consider the Stanford game, where the Trojans, 17-point pre-game favorites, fell behind 42-17 before scoring two late touchdowns that made the final score semi-respectable but didn’t prevent the Coliseum crowd from showering Helton and his underachieving team with boos as they left the field.

Stanford had lost by 17 points to unranked and undistinguished Kansas State the week before, so Trojan fans had every right to expect their guys, already ranked 14th in most national polls, to pound Stanford, and get their season off to a promising 2-0 start after crushing San Jose State last week, 30-7. Instead, they endured their most one-sided loss to an unranked opponent since 2018. 

On the very first play — on the kickoff, for Pete’s sake — Trojan kicker Parker Lewis was ejected from the game for targeting. For those not familiar with college football rules, targeting means that you used your helmet to take down an opponent by launching yourself at him headfirst. The tactic could potentially cripple one or both players.

After that utterly bizarre – and extremely rare — penalty, things went predictably downhill.      

The Trojans were called for nine penalties that cost them 109 yards and gave Stanford five extra first downs. Even Helton admitted that was unacceptable for a team trying to shed its reputation as being penalty-prone.

“After coming off a game that was so clean, and then going back and having a night where you have nine penalties,” Helton said, “that’s the one that really sticks to me.”

After they finally got the ball back, the Trojan offense twice went nowhere – Slovis consistently threw behind his receivers, forcing them into tough catches and several dropped balls — and the defense finally broke down when Stanford running back Nathaniel Peat broke free to the outside for an 87-yard touchdown run.

But USC was able to counter that with a 15-play, 95-yard touchdown drive capped by a two-yard run from Keaontay Ingram that tied the game at 7-7 at the start of the second quarter. It was the only time all game that Slovis looked like the Heisman Trophy candidate that USC flacks claim he is. 

Then the characteristic lack of discipline that Helton instills in all his teams reared its ugly head once again. On the next Stanford drive, USC committed three costly penalties: A dead-ball unnecessary roughness infraction on Chris Steele, a pass interference call on Isaac Taylor-Stuart and, worst of all, a neutral zone infraction by Joshua Jackson as Stanford kicked a field goal.

Rather than take the three points and decline the penalty, Stanford took the five yards and opted to go for a TD on fourth down from the USC 3. Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee rolled right and found Elijah Higgins for a touchdown.

On the Trojan’s next possession, Slovis flat-out missed a wide-open Drake London in the end zone on third-and-five, so they settled for Alex Stadthaus’ first career field goal.

With the first half about to end, the Cardinal drove 64 yards in four plays, a drive that culminated in seven points when McKee found Brycen Tremayne in the back of the end zone for another touchdown and a 21-10 halftime lead. That’s when the first round of boos began and didn’t let up until the Trojans were safely in the locker room. 

After the game, after another round of intense and heart-felt booing, Helton delivered more of the happy talk, and reality-averse philosophizing that Trojan fans have grown tired of. He admitted his players were dejected in the locker room after the stunning loss but insisted there are brighter days ahead.

“I know it’s something that they’re going to come back and work extremely hard on,” Helton said. “Like I told them in there, all their dreams are still out there but we have to do our job and get back to going 1-0 on the week. We’ve got some things to clean up from this football game.”

Job number one: Fire Helton and find a new coach before yet another season goes down the drain.

Two days later: mission accomplished.

Rams are for real

(Loud) Whose house? Rams House!

(Louder) Whose House? Rams house!

(loudest) WHOSE HOUSE? RAMS HOUSE!

Anyone who attends a Rams game at the $5.5 billion So-Fi Stadium in Inglewood will leave the magnificent football cathedral with that catchy call-and-response anthem ringing in their ears. It’s practically mandatory and definitely unavoidable.

That’s because in addition to building the world’s largest circular video screen below the roof and over the field, the Rams have also installed the world’s loudest audio system, with a thumping bass line to drive home the Whose House? Rams House! mantra that is repeated hundreds of times over the course of four hours.

And Sunday’s hard-partying crowd that came to be part of football history – the first regular season NFL game in the state-of-the-art showcase that opened last year but did not allow fans – was happy to answer the question every single time it was asked.  

Thanks to the generosity of original Live Oak Legend Berdell “Berd” Knowles, the 5-foot-8 post monster who used to terrorize players half a foot taller back in the day, All Ball got to attend the game and watch all the action from prime seats: just 13 rows up from field level. 

So-Fi stadium is such an overwhelming sensory experience that it was hard to process every part of it, but several impressions were indelible.

First, just as the LA Coliseum was a natural wonder when it was built a century ago, so So-Fi is instantly the best stadium in the world. Period. And as a certain former disgraced president liked to say about his many exaggerated and downright false claims, it’s not even close.

Second, the sight lines are so carefully thought out that there isn’t a bad seat in the house, even in the upper-upper sections of the 70,000-seat capacity stadium.

Third, whatever Rams owner Stan Kroenke paid the architects, it wasn’t enough. The design and execution are on a par with The Getty Center and Walt Disney Concert Hall. Just magnificent and awe inspiring.

And fourth: the new-look Rams and their new quarterback are for real. And they proved it with a 34-14 victory over the Chicago Bears that was never in doubt after the first five minutes.

Based on a one-game sample, trading quarterback Jared Goff and two first-round picks to the Detroit Lions for quarterback Matthew Stafford may turn out to be the best trade in Rams history.

Stafford immediately proved that he is everything that Goff was not: steady, consistent, accurate and so professional that he commands the respect of his teammates without having to say a word.

Whereas Goff rarely threw a tight spiral, everything Stafford launches has perfect spin and touch. Whereas Goff’s passes wobbled in the air and usually were low, high or behind his target, every single pass Stafford threw was right in the receiver’s pocket.

Indeed, statistically Stafford had the best game of his 12-year career. He connected on 20 of 26 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns. That translated to a quarterback rating of 156, his highest rating ever.

On the Rams third play from scrimmage, Stafford did something Goff rarely did: he spotted an open receiver down the field, launched a perfect pass without any hesitation, and connected on a bulls-eye throw.

He hit wide out Van Jefferson so cleanly that Jefferson fell as he caught it at the 10-yard line, and still had time to get back up, evade two converging defenders, and scamper 10 yards into the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown.

Early in the third quarter Stafford did nearly the same thing when he connected on a 56-yard touchdown with wide receiver Copper Kupp.

With an offensive genius like Head Coach Sean McVay whispering in his ear and calling the plays, it is easy to envision Stafford and the Rams marching all the way to the Super Bowl.

And the Rams won’t have far to go since Super Bowl 56 will be held in So-Fi Stadium next February. Bring your ear plugs because you’re going to need them.

(Loud) Whose House? Rams House!

(Louder) Whose House? Rams House!

(Loudest Ever) Whose House? Rams House

Bad luck for Mira Costa, bad loss for Redondo has another bad loss

For the last three years, the Mira Costa football team has had the best kicker in the Bay League in Thomas Southey, who also happened to be a soccer star. Whether it was a field goal or an extra point, Southey came through and split the uprights 95 percent of the time.

But Southey graduated last spring, and Friday night his absence was fatal as Costa lost to Paraclete of Lancaster at home by the agonizingly close score of 28-27. The difference? A missed extra point attempt.

The loss dropped the Mustangs to 1-2 on the season.

Paraclete jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but the Mustangs came back to tie it on a 57-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Casey Pavlick to Cole Crotty at the start of the second quarter.

Then Pavlick got hot and connected on two more TD passes, one to Reese Leonard for 6 yards and another to Crotty for his second score of the game. Now the Mustangs led 21-7 and looked to be in good position to win the game.

Paraclete pulled within 21-14, but Pavlick threw his fourth TD pass of the game for a 27-14 lead. The Mustangs missed the point after, however, and that later proved to be fatal when Paraclete scored two late TDs to pull out the stunning 28-27 victory.

Pavlick tried his best to throw a last-gasp TD pass, but it was broken up and the game ended in heartbreak for the home crowd.

Mira Costa will take on West Torrance at home next Friday night.

Meanwhile, the Redondo Sea Hawks suffered another humiliating loss. After losing their first two games by scores of 35-0 and 13-3, they were routed by Bishop Diego by a score of 51-3.

The only consolation: Bishop Diego placed 22nd in the latest LA Times ranking of Southland teams. That means Redondo may still have a fighting chance when the Bay League games start, since not a single Bay League team was ranked in the LAT top 25.

Still, being outscored 99-6 in your first three games has to shake the confidence of any team in any league. Perhaps they can get their confidence back when they travel to Paraclete Friday night for a non-league contest.

The rich get richer

The Culver City basketball program, which won the Bay League last season, announced this week that they have hired former LA Lakers great Michael Cooper as their new coach.

A five-time NBA champ with the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, Cooper has been the boys coach at the Chadwick School for the last two years. The former All-NBA defensive player is expected to bring the same focus on defense to Culver City that marked his playing and coaching career.

Last season was Culver City’s first year in the Bay League. With several returning starters they are favored to win the Bay League again this season, which starts in less than two months.

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com.  Follow @paulteetor. ER

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