Clay Helton discusses bowl game

Some selected quotes from USC interim head coach Clay Helton’s conference call following the announcement that the Trojans will face Fresno State in the 2013 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

Opening statement:

“Our football team is very excited to have the chance to participate in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. We’d like to thank the Las Vegas Bowl committee and the city of Las Vegas for having us. This is a great reward for our players and staff. They have accomplished so much this season under some very adverse conditions. We look forward to getting back on the practice field very soon, and preparing for what we feel is one of the better teams in the country in Fresno State.”

On whether Helton has any concerns heading into the contest in regard to the distractions that the city of Las Vegas presents to the players:

“We have guys that understand that we have a job to do, that we are going there to try to win a football game and enjoy the excitement of the bowl game. We’ve been very disciplined as a football team, and I would anticipate that will continue.”

With all that has gone on this season in terms of the coaching changes and turmoil, how does Helton approach this game?

“You look at the things that have gone on this year, how proud we are to be going to the Las Vegas Bowl. But to have the opportunity to get your 10th win, to get double-digit wins, that puts you in a realm as far as accomplishment with a football team, that you can walk away from a season extremely proud of. So, we have a lot out there. This is something we started at the beginning of the season, had some adverse conditions hit us, continued, as our motto says, to fight on, and every time that this team’s faced a little bit of trouble, they’ve found a way to fight back every time, and I can’t wait to see them at the bowl game.”

Will this be the first time that Helton has served as a college head coach?

“Yeah, I’ve had the opportunity to help out at as an interim coach at the University of Memphis, [but] never under a game situation. Coach [Tommy] West, who was at Memphis, had heart surgery during the offseason, and there was a period of time that I needed to run the team and help the University of Memphis out, and here’s this opportunity again.”

With the recent departure of Ed Orgeron as well as Pete Jenkins, who will coach the defensive linemen in the days leading up to the bowl game?

“We’re going to have Coach Ross Cumming do that. He’s been in that room the entire time. He’s one of our graduate assistants, he knows Clancy [Pendergast’s] system [and] he knows how to teach that position.”

On whether newly hired USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has given Helton any advice leading up to the bowl game:

“I’ll tell you, he’s been absolutely great; so has Mr. [Pat] Haden. I just thank them so much for letting our staff have the honor of preparing us for our bowl game. He’s kind of told us, ‘Hey, I want to sit back and give you the right and the honor to lead your team.’ I know he’s going to be watching, to be able to see personnel and things like that, but he’s given us a great opportunity to finish the season out.”

What kind of effect has the departure of Orgeron, as well as the recent hiring of Sarkisian, had emotionally on the remaining coaching staff at USC?

“Any time that you lose a figure like Coach O, as a player or on that coaching staff, you’re going to be sad. That’s a natural reaction I think for both players and coaches alike. In typical USC style and fashion they have brought in a terrific football coach in Coach Sarkisian. We know he’s going to do great things. We have welcomed him, as a staff and as a football team, and we’re here to support him in any way we can. So, obviously, you have some sadness, but you’re also excited about the future.”

What’s it going to take to lift the spirits of the team?

“The greatest thing is you get to play ball. You get to practice, you get to go compete and you get to play in a football game. That heals a lot of wounds. We’re excited to get back out on the practice field tomorrow, and to have the practices that lead up to the bowl game.”

On whether Helton plans to continue doing some of the things that Orgeron did in terms of rewarding the players and maintaining an upbeat atmosphere:

“We’re going to keep the same philosophy that we’ve had the last eight weeks. It’s been successful for us. We’ve had a lot of fun together as a staff and as a football team, and those things are going to continue.”

Will Sarkisian travel with the team to Las Vegas?

“I believe that he is going to be at the bowl game.”

On what he’s seen from the Fresno State offense:

“Coach [Dave] Schramm and his staff have done a tremendous job. They have a terrific quarterback in Derek Carr, and usually when you have a great team, you have a great quarterback. He’s a guy that’s completing 70 percent of his balls, his touchdown-to-interception ratio is ridiculous; so he does some terrific things, and he’s led that team very, very well. They do a terrific job of putting pressure with several wideouts, and then what was really surprising, you think they’re a passing offense, but they’re pretty well-balanced too.”

Has anyone else on the current USC staff been told whether they’re going to be retained by Sarkisian?

“Coach Sarkisian over the next couple of weeks I know is going to put together a terrific staff. He’s been extremely cordial to us in telling us, ‘I’m working on trying to put the best staff in the country together.’ He is going to talk to every one of us on this staff, as well as others around the country, and he’ll find the right fit for USC.”