The Trojans will Ked-on.
On Tuesday, head coach Clay Helton announced true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis will start against No. 9 Notre Dame after clearing concussion protocol.
He sat out against Washignton and hasn’t been cleared for contact since suffering a concussion against Utah two weeks ago.
“[Slovis] will start in this game,” said Helton. “We’re glad to have him back. Both kids, both Kedon [Slovis] and [redshirt junior quarterback] Matt [Fink] are preparing just like they’re starters, like they do every week.”
Now that he’s passed the concussion protocol, Slovis will start in his second away game. His first one did not go according to plan. Against BYU in Provo, Utah, the 18-year-old tossed three interceptions in a 30-27 loss. His final interception in overtime sealed a Cougars’ victory.
“I don’t think it makes a big difference whether I’m on the road or in the Coliseum,” said Slovis. “Just being disciplined, going through the reads. Not letting the last play affect what I do the next time.”
Fink had a chance to wrest away the starting quarterback job, dazzling in the team’s victory over then-No. 10 Utah. But then, he too faltered on the road, throwing three interceptions and averaging just 5.1 yards per pass attempt against Washington. Now the team turns to Slovis again, hoping he can recapture the magic from his record-setting performance against Stanford a month ago.
“I’m always confident in Kedon [Slovis],” said offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. “You know I like him. I think he’s a heck of a player. I don’t think the moment was too big for him at BYU. I just think he threw a pick early and kind of got in his own head.”
Slovis took his licks against a pair of Utah schools. Now, he and the Trojans face their toughest opponent this season. The Fighting Irish’s defense ranks 35th in the nation with 14 sacks and six interceptions, tied for the 16th-most in college football.
Helton pointed to Notre Dame’s pair of senior edge rushers, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, as the team’s biggest difference makers. They’ve combined for 7.5 sacks on the season.
“Defensively, [they’re] probably two of the more dynamic defensive ends that we’ll face all year,” said Helton. “They cause havoc in the backfield. I think one of the biggest things for us will be protecting the quarterback.”
The last time USC traveled to South Bend in 2017, the Trojans turned the ball over three times in a devastating 49-14 loss. USC redshirt freshman running back and Indianapolis native Markese Stepp attended the game, then a Notre Dame commit.
“Sam Darnold was at quarterback,” said Stepp. “Everybody was hyped for that one, because you had Darnold. You had Notre Dame. That game was hype. I remember that. I still have memories on my Snapchat from that game.”
Stepp, who grew up a Fighting Irish fan, will now participate in the historic rivalry with an estimated 40 friends and family in attendance. He says he’s maintained connections with several Notre Dame players and coaches.
“It’s friendly until we step on the field,” said Stepp. “We’re not friends on the field. But off the field, those are my guys.”