Stress wore on the faces and within the voices of USC staff members this week as they approached the halfway level of the season.

Clay Helton pronounced with a uncommon edge Tuesday that, “There’s lots of issues to right. I am not gonna BS you.” That’s about as as profane as USC’s delicate-mannered coach will get publicly.

Offensive coordinator Tee Martin mounted a vigorous, and typically exasperated, protection of his offense and his play calling. “Newsflash,” he stated at one level this week. “We misplaced a whole lot of actually good gamers which have gone off to the NFL proper now.”

A number of gamers cried within the locker room final Friday after a loss to Washington State, USC’s first loss in additional than a yr.

USC (four-1, 2-1 within the Pac-12 Convention) has responded to that loss in a different way than even a yr in the past, when the Trojans started 1-three. Partially, the expectations USC carries — it started the season a playoff favourite, the Pac-12 frontrunner and within the prime 5 — have added pressure. Helton has no straightforward maneuver that may remedy all of USC’s issues, as he had final season in quarterback Sam Darnold. And, USC’s lack of a bye week has left the staff battered by damage and dizzied by a month with no time to take a breath.

The primary 5 video games whooshed by with little time for reflection. USC escaped with precarious victories in every of its first 4 video games earlier than dropping at Washington State.

The Trojans by no means had a simple recreation. Most troubling, they by no means confirmed constant indicators of progress on offense.

Saturday’s recreation towards Oregon State ought to present a chance for each. Oregon State (1-four, zero-2) has been outscored by a mean of 25.2 factors a recreation this season. The Beavers’ solely win was by three factors over Portland State, an FCS staff.

Saturday in all probability can be about indicators of enchancment.

Helton was requested Tuesday if his offense had regressed. He danced across the query. He stated the staff had taken strides from a yr in the past and stated he needed to see comparable progress from September to October.

Requested once more Thursday if he’d seen enhancements, he acquired extra particular.

“I assumed defensively that we have improved, particularly with our youthful youngsters,” Helton stated.“Particular groups have in all probability been the most important bump up.”

However for the offense, he stated, “You undergo the primary month, 35 factors of offense and [459] so far as offensive yardage, most groups can be like, ‘Oh yeah, that is superior,’” Helton stated. “For us, we have now extraordinarily excessive requirements.”

The development has been downward. USC started with 521 yards towards Western Michigan, then zoomed to 623 towards Stanford. Since, USC has steadily slid till it managed solely 327 towards Washington State.

USC has sustained a rash of accidents — absolutely half of the beginning lineup has missed time along with a number of necessary reserves — however USC’s execution has diminished, too.

Martin defended his offensive scheming this week.

“There has not been one recreation plan that I have never appreciated,” Martin stated, earlier than reconsidering with amusing. “In all probability Alabama [last season], these guys.”

USC has additionally struggled to place away groups early. Not one of the Trojans’ wins have been snug.

Linebacker Cameron Smith stated USC needed to “take greater steps all through the remainder of the season,” however didn’t agree that USC had been dwelling dangerously with shut wins.

“I would not say ‘dangerously’ is a phrase you say once you win a recreation,” Smith stated. “There’s occasions once we would clearly wish to have video games that weren’t going into additional time and shut ones.”

The loss wore on USC maybe as a lot because the three losses mixed did a yr in the past. Helton stated the forty five-minute bus experience from Pullman to the airport in Lewiston, Idaho, on Friday night was lifeless silent. There was not a single phrase, he stated.

By Tuesday’s apply, some frustration remained. “I want we performed tomorrow to be trustworthy with you,” Helton stated afterward.

However Helton and USC have resisted drastic change. Helton reversed USC’s fortunes final season by remaining regular and calm, and USC’s gamers responded.

“We’re not gonna freak out,” Smith stated. “It isn’t one thing the place we’re gonna change what we have been doing for the final yr. So it is one thing that us as leaders have to step up and present the youthful guys how we react after a loss. And we’re all [angry], and we’re not OK with it in any respect. We did not come right here to lose video games.”

Gamers stated they seemed ahead to having a goal for his or her irritation.

“I am positive everyone’s gonna be mad,” security Chris Hawkins stated. “So we play Oregon State. They’re in all probability not going to be joyful to play us after this one.”

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Comply with Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand