The Trojans began preparing for their Las Vegas Bowl matchup with Fresno State under newly named interim coach Clay Helton, who said he was "pleasantly excited" by the way the team came out to play while recovering from the loss of interim coach Orgeron and also adjusting to the future takeover from former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian.
The head coach in waiting did attend the light practice at Howard Jones Field for the early moments before stepping aside and heading back to his office, something USC compliance requires because of the current influx of coaches on campus. Sarkisian said he is working diligently to interact with his players and build some rapport for next season.
"I'm about 80 or 90 percent done. They have all been really good; they are really good kids," Sarkisian said of meeting with the current players. He also recognized his biggest sell must come to the NFL early-entry eligible "six-star recruits" whom he hopes to retain for their final seasons.
The biggest message from practice was to focus on finishing out the season strong by securing their 10th victory. In that pursuit, Cody Kessler and his offense took the field Monday under the once-offensive assistant who was then promoted to play caller when Kiffin left, to now running the team during the final weeks of the season.
"This team has gone through so much, but we came out here today and didn't miss a beat," said Kessler, who was especially adamant about not suffering a similar letdown from the Sun Bowl last season. "We had the same tempo we've had the last eight or nine weeks. Everyone was loud, flying around, and competing.
PREPARING FOR FRESNO STATE...
The USC Trojans have already faced one of the best passing offenses in the nation from Oregon State and will now be gearing up to slow down Derek Carr and the Fresno State passing machine. The Bulldogs finished the regular season with the top-ranked passing offense averaging just under 410 yards per game.
In terms of preparing for what the Bulldogs have to offer, Helton believes it all starts with tremendous coaching that has utilized the very best out of Bakersfield product Derek Carr.
"He is more than just a dangerous quarterback, he is the top passer in the country," Helton said.
THOUGHTS ON THE FIRST DAY...
"They were running around, they were competing, they did a wonderful job," Helton said. "I told them at the end, I'm proud to be associated with them. Just a terrific attitude they came out here with. These guys really want to compete to get 10 wins. It's something that a lot of them have come up to me and said, ‘Coach, we want to prepare. We want to go make the Trojan family proud, and it was evident today."
As head coach Steve Sarkisian continues to compile the rest of the coaching staff moving forward, the Trojans are placed in a precarious position in terms of the recruiting front.
Much known for trying times with scholarship reductions during each of the last two seasons, USC is actually in a position to utilize four scholarships on early-enrollee football players. Due to the Trojans signing only 11 players in the spring, the Trojans have the four early-enrollee slots that must be filled or the Trojans won't sign the full 15 players, for the 2013 calendar year, the sanctions have allowed them each year.
Last week Sarkisian announced the retention of Tee Martin along with the hiring of former Washington assistants Johnny Nansen, Peter Sirmon and Keith Heyward, and says it's now time to hit the ground running to secure players for this year's recruiting class.
"We are getting a lot closer," Sarkisian said about his staff. "We're getting to a point now where we have a really good idea what the staff is going to look like. I obviously can't comment until the ink is dry...but the staff's shaping up great."
Interim coach Clay Helton announced center Marcus Martin (knee) and right guard Aundrey Walker (hamstring) will be out for the bowl game, leaving the Trojans with only seven offensive lineman (one of which is redshirt freshman Nico Falah), that will be healthy and ready to play for the December 21st ranked showdown in Vegas.
The offensive line injuries promoted another switch for Nathan Guertler. The redshirt junior walk-on will go back over to right tackle after suiting up at tight end for a good portion of the season.
Luckily for Troy, Guertler has quite honorably played the spot for the past two seasons. Also keep in mind Marquis Simmons (elbow), Tre Madden (hamstring) and Randall Telfer (knee) sat out from practice Monday, but Helton said they are getting better by the day and are hopeful to practice by this upcoming weekend.
WHAT DOES THE SARK SAY...