(CBSLA)- The 2019 season was a roller coaster ride for Clay Helton and the USC football team. Between injuries, speculation about Helton’s job security and the hiring of a new athletic director, the Trojans usually seemed to be in the news because of things not directly related to their games.
But, after all of the speculation, Helton is back for another year at least, and the team finished the year 8-4 despite having to start three different quarterbacks. With that finish, they were invited to the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl for a matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes. For an already beat-up Trojans team, that isn’t exactly welcome news.
Iowa plays a bruising, physical brand of football with a lot of two-tight end or fullback-in-the-formation sets. Kirk Ferentz’s team is far from dazzling on offense, but they are 27th in the country in time of possession, averaging over 31 minutes per game. The Hawkeyes are built to wear a team down over the course of a game, and they have a weird tendency of getting opponents, no matter who they are, to play their style of game. No Hawkeyes opponent scored more than 24 points this season, and their three losses came by a total of 14 points.
USC’s defense has been average, allowing opponents 5.5 yards per play and 27.8 points per game. They have struggled to stop the run, however, allowing over 4.6 yards per carry and 166 yards per game. While the Hawkeyes rushing attack isn’t as potent as in years past, it is likely to find room to run here. There is question about whether seconnd-leading rusher Tyler Goodson will play in this game, but even without him, the Hawkeyes have a pair of backs in Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young capable of taking advantage on the ground.
On offense, the Trojans do have some good news. Quarterback Kedon Slovis is expected to be available for this game, and he has thrived in coordinator Graham Harrell’s system. With Amon-Ra St. Brown, Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns and Drake London all expected to suit up, the USC passing attack should put some stress on the Iowa defense. But that is if Slovis is only given enough time to throw.
Iowa’s defensive front features the extremely disruptive A.J. Epenesa at defensive end. Epenesa picked up nine sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss this season with 45 tackles on the year. As a whole, the Hawkeyes give up just 183 yards per game through the air on 57.8% completions for opponents. One other scary factor to consider when looking at the Trojans here? Clay Helton’s history in bowl games.
“Clay Helton, at USC, has really struggled in his bowl games. 0-3 ATS. And, not just Helton, but the Pac-12 has been struggling in their bowl games, 10-22 the last four years. That is really a horrible showing in bowl games,” said SportsLine’s Wizard of Odds, Kenny White. “Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, he is 7-4 ATS in his last 11. The Big 10, not a huge winning record, but they’re 19-18 ATS in their bowl games the last four years. I’ll take Iowa, I think they beat USC in this one.”
Vegas agrees with Kenny, installing the Hawkeyes as two-point favorites as of this writing. Granted, the Hawkeyes struggled as favorites this season, going just 4-5 against the number. USC, wasn’t much better as an underdog going 2-2 in their opportunities this season.
Kick-off for the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl is set for Friday, December 27th at 5:00 p.m. PST.