True freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis says he's up for the challenge of leading USC’s offense, and he has recent history to back his case.
“It’s evident that true freshmen can have success at this level, “ Slovis said, referring to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. “That’s really encouraging for me.”
Slovis entered Saturday’s game against Fresno State in the second half, after sophomore JT Daniels suffered a devastating knee injury. The next day, head coach Clay Helton ruled Daniels out for the season with a torn meniscus and ACL injury.
In his debut, Slovis completed six of eight passes for 57 yards with an interception. He made critical plays — like a 41-yard completion to redshirt junior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns that set up a rushing touchdown — which helped the Trojans secure a tenuous 31-23 win in the season opener.
Slovis, a former 3-star recruit from Scottsdale, Ariz., went from having only two Pac-12 offers in high school to being USC’s starting quarterback in the short span of a year.
“It reminds me a lot of what we had with Sam Darnold,” Helton said. “We had the opportunity to go out on our spring evaluations, bring back that film and evaluate it. [Slovis] was coached by a great player and a great coach in [Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner]. He came to our camp and when all the other high-level four and five stars were here, he just put on a show and out-competed everybody… We always trust our gut. We did with Sam [Darnold], we did with Kedon [Slovis].”
After Tuesday’s practice, Slovis credited his calm demeanor in his unexpected debut to his days of playing youth basketball.
“I was joking to my dad earlier,” Slovis said. “He used to coach me in basketball, so I was like, ‘Maybe it’s because you used to go crazy on the sideline,’ that I used to be even-keeled to try to even that out.”
Slovis’s first test as a starter will be a slight step up from the basketball gyms of his childhood. No. 23 Stanford’s defense gave up just 117 pass yards and intercepted two passes against Northwestern in Week 1. Collectively, the Wildcats only managed a 44.4 completion percentage against the Cardinal.
The Trojans will undoubtedly utilize their run game, which posted 175 yards against Fresno State. However, fans should expect Slovis to attempt far more passes than the eight he had in Week 1, especially given offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s air-raid philosophy.
“We game-plan the same,” Harrell said. “You just have to do whatever puts you in the best position to win against any opponent. [The game-plan] will change based on the opponent, but not based on our personnel.”
USC’s wide receivers are embracing the challenge that lies ahead.
“To have your starting quarterback go down, it hurts,” sophomore wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said. “But it makes us push that much harder as a team and makes us more excited to play next week.”
St. Brown also refuted the idea that Slovis would be a downgrade from Daniels, his former high school teammate.
“[Slovis] can throw it just as well as [Daniels] and we know that,” St. Brown said. “We’re confident in [Slovis], that he can get the job done.”
Slovis’ life changed on Saturday, but his approach to the game remains the same as it was when he was a backup.
“It’s just football,” Slovis said. “It’s the same kinda thing in practice, same everything. It’s just outside of football, it’s a little bit bigger. But you gotta stay focused on what you’re doing.”