“Outside the Pocket” is a column by Sam Arslanian about USC football.
USC has a new hero and his name is Kedon Slovis.
I will be the first to admit that I was worried about USC going into its game on Saturday. A true freshman quarterback — who has never started in a collegiate game — starting against No. 23 Stanford is not a bet I would take. But at the same time, I wasn’t going to bet against Slovis.
In true 2017 USC fashion, the Trojans managed to reconcile a deficit and close the game in the second half. It took a while for things to get going, but when USC opened the floodgates late in the first half, everyone hopped on the Slovis bandwagon, leaving JT Daniels as a distant memory.
Last week, I wrote that there was no reason that Slovis couldn’t lead this offense; he did that and so much more.
Posting an 85% completion rate with 377 yards and 3 touchdowns is a jaw-dropping performance in itself, but you needed to watch the game to understand just how masterful Slovis was last Saturday night.
There’s one play I can’t get out of my head: a midfield bubble screen that looked like it would be a no-doubt sack.
Slovis looked left and right, and there wasn’t an open player in sight. With pressure moving in fast, Slovis evaded the pass rush, tip-toed through the line and turned what could have been a 5-yard sack into a several yard gain. That’s something we didn’t see when Slovis stepped in against Fresno State Week 1.
Slovis’ confidence is through the roof; he’s 18 years old but looks like a veteran every snap. He dropped long balls right on the mark and rifled passes into tough spots all night long. By the start of the fourth quarter, it seemed as if he could do no wrong, and it’s clear he has the support of Trojan fans.
The coming weeks will be a test for Slovis and Co. Stanford is a good team but far better competition is on the horizon. If Slovis can perform in Provo, Utah the way he did on Saturday, USC should have no problem moving past BYU.
Following BYU, the Trojans will face an absolute gauntlet of opponents: No. 11 Utah, No. 23 Washington and No. 7 Notre Dame. If USC wants a shot at winning any of those games, it needs to stay consistent on offense and make improvements on the defensive front.
The defense left much to be desired after allowing 216 total yards and 20 points in the first half. They made up for it after halftime, limiting Stanford to 119 total yards in the second half.
Several defensive players had great performances. Sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga boasted 10 tackles, but sophomore cornerback Olaijah Griffin was clearly the defensive MVP. Griffin broke up four passes, two of which were touchdown passes on the same set of downs. His acrobatic pass defense saved USC 7 points when they were trailing by 11 with the game getting out of hand.
Griffin, at 6 feet tall, was matched up against junior Colby Parkinson, a 6-foot-7 tight end. Despite the massive height difference, Griffin guarded Parkinson with ease, surprising even himself with his ability to make key stops.
“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.”
Look for Griffin to be a standout defensive player this season, and if the rest of the defense can play like they did in the second half Saturday night, the Trojans might just have a shot at knocking down some of the goliath opponents on their schedule.
Saturday’s game was refreshing to watch. For the first time in a year, USC was dominant. Everything was working for them. All the star pieces finally came together to put on a spectacle at the Coliseum.
“Outside the Pocket” runs every Monday.