On Thursday, with nine days until the season opener, USC head coach Clay Helton announced that freshman Jaxson Dart would be the backup quarterback behind junior Kedon Slovis.
Dart beat out fellow freshman Miller Moss, who is now the third-string quarterback on the depth chart for Week 1. Helton said he was impressed with the competition between the two freshmen.
“I credit both kids for their approach to the competition, how well they competed and their growth from practice one and spring all the way through now,” he said.
Both Moss and Dart were highly-touted prospects out of high school — Dart was ranked the No. 10 quarterback in the Class of 2021 while Moss was ranked No. 12 — leaving USC with a bright future at the position.
Dart, a dual-threat quarterback, presents a different look than both Slovis and Moss, who are both considered more traditional pocket passers.
The battle for the backup position began in the spring with both players enrolling early and participating in spring camp. For most of camp, redshirt senior Mo Hasan was also competing for the backup position, but he tore his ACL during the Spring Showcase and will miss the entire season.
Dart seemed to have the advantage for the backup role following a strong Spring Showcase performance. During the scrimmage, he went 7-for-13 for 99 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Moss went 7-of-13 as well, but for just 34 yards while also adding an interception.
During fall camp, the competition tightened, with Moss showing improvement from his spring performance.
“I saw Miller really grow from practice one to where he is now,” Helton said. “You think about a kid that didn’t even get a senior year [of high school], and to be able to get to where he is right now and be ready for college football has been amazing.”
Ultimately, Dart was able to secure the job.
“Where Jaxson had a leg up a little bit was in live action,” Helton said on the deciding factors. “That’s what I needed to see, and he was a little more productive in those situations than [Moss].”
Helton is hopeful that he can get both freshmen into games this season.
“I’d love to be able to be up in some games and be able to get both those kids valuable reps within games to give them college experience,” he said. “And that’s an evaluation tool, too, is how well do they handle the Coliseum when it’s filled.”
Helton also said that while Dart is above Moss for now, nothing is permanent. Helton referenced the past backup quarterback battle between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek in 2012: Kessler was originally behind Wittek before winning the starting job the next season, an example of what Moss could do if he continues to improve.
Barring injury, neither player is expected to play a large role this season, however, with Slovis firmly in control of the starting position. The season begins Saturday, Sept. 4 against San Jose State.