TrojanSports - Clay Helton explains reasons for USC opting out of bowl game
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Clay Helton explains reasons for USC opting out of bowl game

USC made the announcement Saturday that it would opt out of any potential bowl game, a day after its 31-24 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.

The Trojans (5-1) likely would have been ticketed for the Alamo Bowl, which will instead feature Colorado from the Pac-12 going against Texas from the Big 12 on Dec. 29 in San Antonio, Texas.

Helton joined the Trojans Live radio show Monday night to further discuss the reason for USC choosing to end its season early, reiterating some of the themes of the program's official statement Saturday noting that the football team had an unspecified number of players test positive for COVID-19 leading into the Pac-12 championship game, and that with further injuries the Trojans would be pushing the minimum roster threshold needed to play.

The positive COVID-19 tests were not disclosed publicly prior to the game. USC announced Monday that four student-athletes had confirmed positive cases out of 1,597 tests conducted across all 21 sports in the previous week. It did not specify how many of those were from the football program.

Helton, meanwhile, indicated that left tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker (hamstring), wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (shoulder) and quarterback Kedon Slovis (shoulder) likely wouldn't have been available for a bowl game on top of other injuries. The Trojans were without running back Vavae Malepeai (knee) vs. Oregon.

"Walking into the game last week we were at 60 scholarship players, and those three games in 13 days had really banged us up. And then playing a physical championship game, already with Alijah [Vera-Tucker] on a bad hamstring -- probably would not have had him for the bowl game after that game. He played through it and was a warrior. Losing Amon-Ra to a shoulder, would not have been there. Losing Kedon on the last play, would not have been there. We suffered enough injuries coming out of that game that we were right at the minimum mark of scholarship players to walk in," Helton said Monday night.

"And then environment, just to be honest with you, at the university and the City of Los Angeles, all our sports that were not in season are now at home. Our basketball team is on a two-week quarantine. We actually had positives the week of the game where kids did not make it and we were to the point where we would have had to be at a breaking point and shut down if we had another positive."

Helton reiterated the decision was made after talking to "our medical professionals at USC, talking to our leadership, talking to our coordinators, talking to our administration and getting the advice of everything."

"The right thing ain't always easy but it's always right," Helton said. "In this case, it was right for our players not to have 10 more practices and not be guaranteed whether we could get to a bowl game or not. The health and safety for them, it was the right decision to be made."

While on the Trojans Live program, Helton also shared his reflections on the loss to Oregon, which will likely be the only time he is asked about it this week as he has no scheduled media availabilities at this point.

As he later referenced that USC played three games in 13 days and had "about three days of prep" after the Pac-12 switched out its opponent from Washington to Oregon last Monday, ahead of a Friday game.

Helton also alluded to the fact that Oregon had extra prep time having not played the week before, with its game vs. Washington cancelled.

"[Oregon] had the time to be able to study us and came in with a good plan. It doesn't give us an excuse not to go out there and perform," Helton said. "Early we did not perform at our best. We dug ourselves a hole with those turnovers. ... When you lose the turnover battle, it's going to be a hard night. I credit our kids, it just felt like all night we were going to make those plays that were going to be needed to win the game. We put ourself right back in that position with 4 minutes left to have the ball, to have an opportunity to tie or go ahead on that last drive. And we just didn't make the play.

"There was a dozen plays in that game. I've watched the tape already three or four times now, and I'm going, 'Gosh almighty, just one play would have, might have changed the outcome of the game.' And that's what usually happens in championship games. Usually you don't win them -- it's the team that makes the most mistakes and kind of beats themselves sometimes, that's the outcome. And that was the case. We made enough mistakes in that game and against a good football team on a championship stage."

Helton reiterated what he said in his postgame comments from Friday night, that he thought the Trojans made significant progress this year and were poised to make another run at the Pac-12 title next year.

"Obviously we're sad, there's a lot of positives on the year. We made a lot of strides as a football team, but I know our kids hurt, because they gave their heart and soul this year. The locker room, I can't explain, I've never been in a locker room like that, just that much heartbreak and that much effort and how tough and how hard those kids fought for a championship and how much they poured into it," he said. "Obviously we walked away disappointed, but what I told the kids was, I truly believe our championship is not denied -- it's only delayed with this group of kids. Because they know what it takes to get there and they're going to know what it means to win one."