If Saturday’s matchup with Rice can be considered the first of a 12-plus-course meal for USC fans this college football season, Thursday served up quite the appetizer out east.
Years after battling for USC’s starting quarterback job ahead of the 2019 season, former Trojans JT Daniels and Kedon Slovis found themselves battling once again in the Backyard Brawl, the rivalry matchup between Daniels’ West Virginia and Slovis’ Pittsburgh.
It wound up as the thriller that every USC fan hoped for upon Daniels’ April 13 transfer from Georgia to the Mountaineers, when the matchup between the two ex-USC signal-callers was set. West Virginia led by a touchdown with as little as four minutes remaining, but two late Panther touchdowns — one a 24-yard pass from Slovis, one a pick-six that wasn’t Daniels’ fault in the slightest — gave No. 17 Pitt the late lead.
Daniels’ offense had a chance to tie it on the final drive of the game, but a fourth-and-16 reception that would’ve given the Mountaineers the ball on the 1-yard line was overturned and ruled an incompletion. Slovis kneeled it out to officially end it.
In all, Slovis went 16-of-24 with 308 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, while Daniels was 23-for-39 with 214 yards, two touchdowns and the “pick” (if you will).
But while the game lived up to all its hype in front of a packed crowd at Acrisure Stadium, the fireworks started even earlier. Slovis ignited the proverbial flame at a pep rally hosted by his Panthers ahead of the Backyard Brawl, clearly unafraid to take shots at his newest rival before even playing a game in his new threads:
Credit where due: He backed it up.
Though perhaps less front-and-center, there were a couple other USC-adjacent storylines on display on Thursday — these ones on the coaching side.
Thursday was the West Virginia debut of new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. Name ring a bell? Harrell assumed the same role at USC in January of 2019 until Lincoln Riley ushered in a new coaching staff this offseason. Harrell and Daniels spent one offseason together in L.A. before Daniels’ season-ending injury in 2019 Week 1 — his final appearance as a Trojan. Harrell then coached Slovis for the rest of that season through 2021; Daniels departed USC for Georgia in April of 2020 after losing the starting job to Slovis.
And on the other sideline, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi was the focal point of some drama surrounding the Trojans a couple months ago. According to an ESPN report in late April, Narduzzi phoned Riley and accused USC of tampering after Jordan Addison, the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner and eventual USC transfer, entered his name into the portal. (The allegations were ultimately unfounded; USC had no comment and Pittsburgh didn’t respond to a request when each athletic department was contacted by Annenberg Media at the time.)
So, to recount: Thursday featured former USC quarterback JT Daniels and former USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell vs. former USC quarterback Kedon Slovis and the guy who (reportedly) accused USC’s current head coach of tampering — in a heated rivalry matchup to open the season. Oh, and one of the former USC quarterbacks verbally flipped the bird at the other USC quarterback’s team two days before gameday.
The game was indeed a thriller — but for the USC crowd, the storylines would’ve sufficed on their own.