Clay Helton, Vavae Malepeai weigh in on win over Arizona – Press Enterprise

Clay Helton, Vavae Malepeai weigh in on win over Arizona – Press Enterprise

Here are some highlights from USC’s press conferences following its 34-30 win over Arizona:

Head coach Clay Helton

Opening statement:

“Great college football game. Lot of credit to Coach [Kevin] Sumlin and his team for the energy they brought, how tough they played. Those kids had a lot of heart today. And you know, looking at our football team, we, offensively, showed up late again. We missed some opportunities in the red zone that I thought could separate ourselves in the game in the second half. Being inside the 15 twice, coming away with no points wasn’t good. Had the opportunity to separate and left a good team in. Credit to their kids offensively. I thought that they did a nice job of spreading the ball around and making some big plays down the field. And then at the end our kids did what they did last week, when it mattered the most. I didn’t see any panic. They showed great poise to have a little bit over a minute on the clock with three timeouts, we felt extremely comfortable. It’s what we do each and every week in practice each and every week and the guys executed to perfection. I thought again, I credit Graham [Harrell] because I thought we saw a lot of drop eight today and you had to lean on the run game. And the run game showed up again for about that 175 mark. And in the most critical situation, Graham went to it down in the red zone and great play by Vavae [Malepeai] to get that ball in the end zone. So a Pac-12 win on the road. We’re 1-0 on the week, 2-0 on the season. We’ll get back home and get prepared for Utah next week.”

On the biggest difference when things are working offensively and when they are not:

“Probably a little bit of both. It’s again one of those games I think you’re gonna look up, we had somewhere around 500 yards today, it felt like, and it was really our execution in the red zone that stood out to me. Anytime that you get it inside I think it was the 15-yard line twice, you come away with no points, that’s your opportunity to separate yourself in the game. And that’s something that we improved a little bit on this week, we gotta get more because I think this can be a 45-, 50-point offense when we’re running on all cylinders. We improved a little bit in some areas. I’m really happy with the run game and how that is going. That’s really the difference in us this year compared to last is that 175 we’re putting up a game to take a little pressure off a really good quarterback that threw for another 300 and completes another 70% of balls that he’ll tell you he didn’t have his best day. Still, those are career days for most kids. We’re fortunate to get out of here with a win. We improved in some areas, some other areas we gotta keep improving in. But I’m proud of the kids and their toughness and how they handle adversity. They’re a tough-minded bunch.”

On why QB Kedon Slovis struggled at times with his throws:

“I played the position before and there was a little wind down there, to be honest with you. When you were going towards our locker room there was a little bit of wind in your face and to be honest with you, on a really dry day, that ball can get slick on you a little bit. I know a couple slipped out of his hands. He found ways to execute down the stretch and I’ve always said, winners win, and he’s a winner, and he found a way to win and execute when it mattered the most. That’s what good quarterbacks do and he’s done it two weeks in a row so thank goodness for him.”

On his level of concern following some sloppy play:

“You know, we’re 2-0, 1-0 on the week. We’re gonna go back home and continue to improve each and every week and find a way to get 1-0 next week against a good Utah team. And you know, the biggest thing, I know our kids really deal with reality well. They deal with the truth well. And there’s some things that I know they know, and I told them in the locker room. There’s some things that we need to get better at but celebrate all wins. Conference games on the road that you come out with, celebrate. And we’re 1-0 on the week, 2-0 on the season. A lot of teams would like to be there.”

On how he would grade the offensive line:

“I don’t think we gave up a sack and we rushed for our mark of 175. So are there a couple things that we could do better? Yes, we had a I think a missed assignment on the one fourth and short that I would like to have back. But you give up zero sacks on the day and you hit our mark of 175, they met a goal. They kept our quarterback upright and they’ll always say we want to get better, we want to get better. But I saw improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.”

On his confidence level that the season will be completed in the face of the rising COVID-19 numbers:

“I told them today that we don’t know what tomorrow holds, that we need to live in the moment and the moment is, man, what a gorgeous day to play the game we love and to go out there and have a ball doing it. To come out with a win on the road against a good Arizona team, they’re living in the moment and they found a way to get 2-0. Obviously there’s a lot of hurdles going on around the country and in our conference, and I think it speaks volumes to right now how our kids are, to walk in here for a second week and have the opportunity to play, to be perfect as far as testing goes and the discipline our kids have to follow the protocols, the sacrifices that they’re making in isolation, I’m proud of them. They gave us an opportunity to play the game. We don’t know what next week holds. We were in to getting 1-0 this week and we found a way. Now we’ll get home and we’ll see what next week looks like.”

If he saw the team clean up last week’s mistakes:

“I thought we went from four turnovers to zero — that’s a positive. I think that’s an improvement. The penalties obviously stick out and we have to improve there. We’ll get to be able to coach it off tape, but that was one of those games to be honest with you, if we turn it over one time we may lose that game. So to go from four turnovers last week to zero, I thought the kids took it to heart, I thought there was great ball security, especially in some tough running situation. I thought Kedon protected the ball well. I don’t remember a throw that really was forced in the game, so there’s positives that came out of it. Now, was it perfectly clean? Heck no, it wasn’t, and we understand that. The penalties are one of the areas that we’ll look on tape and try to improve for next week.”

Why it took so long to get the run game going:

“It’s the second game in a row we walked into a game that you really didn’t know what you were going to see, and to be able to get a couple series under our belt and to be able to see exactly what they were doing, and then I thought Graham made good adjustments and stayed patient with the run, especially on normal down and distances. Kedon started off just a little bit sluggish. They were dropping 8 some and formationally you could set their coverages by formation. We found the answer to the run game based off the formations that we liked, and found the runs that we thought would go against it, but it took a couple series to diagnose what they’re doing and make the adjustment. Graham did that and I thought he did a good job, really. We hit the mark that we needed to hit. Probably the biggest thing in the run game for me is cleaning up the third- and fourth-and-short again, to be able to see that on tape. I know one of them was a missed assignment, I know that one. But I want to be able to see the other ones. You have to be able to go in, not knowing what you’re going to get, be able to go in and diagnose, I thought Graham did a nice job of being able to adjust.”

On Raymond Scott stepping in at linebacker:

“I was proud of Ray and Kana’i [Mauga]. We lost [Palaie Gaoteote IV] about halfway through the game, and those guys needed to come in and give us valuable reps. We played a lot of guys in this game. Raymond was one, Kana’i was one. You saw Connor Murphy get in there and get some opportunities. It was one of those games that we knew were going to be a high play count and Raymond did a good job. To have limited time at the position, he’s really dived into it. It’s a position that fits him. He can be a safety, he can be a linebacker. Because of our injuries we needed him at linebacker. he was very selfless, really poured himself into it and he contributed big for our team so very proud for him.”

RB Vavae Malepeai

On why the offense took some time to get in rhythm:

“It was just miscommunication by us. Basically the whole unit. We came on the sideline, talked it out, and just basically got it together.”

On the mood in the locker room after this type of win:

“It’s a blessing for sure. Coach Helton says it all the time. We celebrate all wins. Today was a win. 24-hour rule, enjoy it tonight, and then get prepared for Utah. They’re a great team and looking to come out with a great season opener.”

His overall assessment of the first two games:

“I wouldn’t say anything surprised me. If anything, I know we have a lot to improve on. Not just as an offense, but as a whole team. A lot to learn. We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

Why the offense has made several of the same mistakes repeatedly:

“I would just say that to want to and get to communication … the run game in the beginning of the game, especially in the first quarter, we had spurts here and there. But at the end of the day, we were missing our assignments. Once we got on the same page and we were able to communicate with each other, not only on the sideline, but in the game, it helped us move forward. As far as the issues go, there’s a lot for us to work on. There’s a lot of room for improvement. And we just have to get better at finishing. It’s going to be a mentality we have to take moving forward, to finish strong and not leave the field without six points.”

On his game-winning touchdown:

“It was great blocking, no doubt. At the end of the day, Coach made a great call. The O-line did a great job communicating. At the beginning, miscommunication here and there. But as the game went on, when we needed it, we got the job done. Give credit to the O-line, and the wideouts on the edge, just blocking. It’s a team effort. It’s about the team’s success. I just really grabbed the ball and walked it into the end zone. It was the guys around me that pushed me into the end zone. I’m grateful for that.”

On Kedon Slovis’ performance the last two drives:

“Kedon is always focused. There’s not a time when we doubted him. He’s in the game for a reason. That’s because he gets the job done. He has great support around him, not only from the whole team, but the unit as well, the other QB’s behind him. At the end of the day, he’s always focused. His confidence is never wavering. When you see a QB that can get the job done when it’s most needed, why wouldn’t you want to play behind him and play around him? He played great to day. People can say what they’re going to say, but at the end of the day, he got the job done.”