At the end of USC’s 45-20 rout over the No. 23 Stanford Cardinal, freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis stood atop the drum major stand hoisting the Trojan sword surrounded by the Trojan faithfuls welcoming him as their new quarterback.
“That was pretty cool,” Slovis said.
In his first start, Slovis posted an 85% completion percentage while racking up 377 yards en route to a 3 touchdown performance, but those stats don’t paint the full picture. Slovis’ ability to maneuver the pocket and pick up gains with his feet paired magnificently with his ability to heave deep balls in the air-raid offense.
“[Helton] has a really good football team,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said. “They were well prepared; his staff was well prepared. I think they are going to be a tough team to beat down the road.”
Slovis’ 377-yard performance was the most passing yards by a USC quarterback in regulation since the 2016 Rose Bowl when Sam Darnold led the Trojans to beat Penn State 52-49.
“We knew [Slovis’] talent and we understood the type of players our quarterbacks are,” head coach Clay Helton said. “[Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell] is kind of loose and lets the kids have fun.”
The beginning of the game did not look bright for the Trojans. Trailing 3-7 at the end of the first quarter, things only got worse as the second quarter progressed. An opening touchdown was followed up by a botched kickoff return that resulted in the Cardinal taking back possession.
The game looked like it could get out of hand quick. A pair of acrobatic touchdown pass denials by sophomore cornerback Olaijah Griffin was the bright spot in what looked like USC’s downfall. Griffin’s plays forced a field goal, limiting the damage, but the Trojans suddenly went from a 4 point game to trailing 17-3, just minutes into the second quarter.
“That’s some mobility that I didn’t even know I had,” Griffin said. “I feel like superman after that. I’m just proud of myself.”
The next drive, the Trojans struck back. The Coliseum erupted after Slovis dropped a 39-yard floating touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, lighting a fire under the Trojans.
“I knew he was going to catch it because [St. Brown] was under it,” Slovis said. “I was just worried he was going to get killed after."
The Cardinal would respond with a field goal, but USC had a better answer in the form of 2 touchdowns to close out the first half. The first was a 25-yard rushing touchdown by way of junior back Stephen Carr; the second was a perfectly executed two-minute drill to take a 24-20 lead into halftime.
Those 2 touchdowns opened the floodgates; starting with those 2 touchdowns, the Trojans racked up 35 unanswered points.
The second half was less of a roller coaster. USC closed the third quarter scoring the only points of the quarter on a touchdown via redshirt junior Vavae Malepeai. In both matchups this season, USC has entered the fourth quarter leading by 10 or more points.
“It’s fun,” Malepeai said about running in Harrell’s offense. “But really like [Harrell] always says, it’s an execution-based offense, and we’re just gonna take what the defense gives us.”
In the final quarter, the USC defense tightened up, allowing little room for Stanford to make a comeback. Stanford’s first drive was cut short by an interception courtesy of redshirt nickel back Greg Johnson, which the Trojan offense would convert into a touchdown minutes later.
“Our momentum was up the whole game,” Griffin said. “We wasn’t gonna let nothing stop us, that energy we’re bringing.”
The fans aided in the momentum; the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum recorded its largest attendance since Nov. 18, 2017 when USC hosted UCLA.
Harrell took to Twitter after the game to commend the fans for showing out:
With its win, USC improves to 2-0 on the season. The Trojans will head to Provo, Utah next week to play BYU. The Cougars are sitting at 1-1 after a loss to Utah in Week 1 and a win over Tennessee this week. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m.