The true freshman QB electrified in his first career start
LOS ANGELES — One week can change so much in college football.
In Week 1, familiar offensive stagnation somewhat soured the debut of USC's revamped approach, and the ACL tear quarterback JT Daniels suffered threw a relative unknown behind center. Fast-forward seven days, and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum buzzed with new energy during a 45-20 rout of Pac-12 rival Stanford, and Kedon Slovis' name went from obscurity to one of the most repeated around the country.
The true freshman Slovis made his first career start and went 28-of-33 passing for 377 yards with three touchdowns. He delivered the kind of statistical performance anticipated of a quarterback in the system offensive coordinator Graham Harrell was hired to install — and perhaps most impressive, Slovis did so after falling behind by two touchdowns.
"When we were down 17-3, after the fumble [on a return that set up a Stanford field goal], [Slovis] brought the offense in, and it was like, 'Hey, even though we're down, we're scoring on every drive from here on,'" said wide receiver John Jackson. "It was surprising for me, to see him as a true freshman be able to bring together senior linemen, look them dead in the eye and without even thinking twice about told them, 'This is what we're going to.'"
Slovis proved pretty much true to his word, too. The Trojans only punted once more after that, scoring six touchdowns on seven possessions. In that stretch, the full potential of USC's offense shined, and the future for a former 3-star prospect gained the potential to be one of this season's most intriguing storylines.
List off the numbers produced in Slovis' first start, and they're all impressive. He led a 42-3 run after USC initially fell behind, 17-3. Eight pass catchers made receptions, including Tyler Vaughns posting triple digits for a second straight week, and Amon-Ra St. Brown getting into the end zone twice. And now, after the impressive win, USC is back in the Associated Press Poll at No. 24 heading into its first road trip of the season at BYU.
Less quantifiable is the excitement his performance generated for a program that, since winning the Pac-12 championship in December 2017, has not experienced much cause of exuberance. Last season's 5-7 finish came largely as a result of offensive inefficiency, which rendered the atmosphere at the Coliseum for home games lifeless. Saturday's affair became a party for 62,000-plus revelers — including those wearing cardinal-and-gold helmets.
Head coach Clay Helton joked on his Sunday night teleconference call that coaches and sideline staff had to rein in celebrations Saturday for fear of drawing unsportsmanlike penalties. That followed in the theme of "fun" Helton emphasized immediately following the game and on Sunday.
"Graham is kind of loose and lets the kids have fun and play fast and play aggressive," he said on Saturday. "Even though [Slovis] is young, we named him the No. 2 [quarterback] for a reason. Let’s go cut him loose. That’s not hard for Graham because he’s always ready to cut it loose. It was fun for me to watch."
USC's free-and-loose offense is also fun for its defense. While Harrell spoke with a throng of reporters on Saturday, captain and defensive end Christian Rector walked by, shouting out "Air raid, baby!"
It was a brief interaction, but one that captures the relationship the two sides of the ball can share as the new scheme continues to develop this season. Against Stanford, they fed effectively off one another. Linebacker John Houston Jr. described the defense gaining energy with each productive offensive possession. And, like the thousands in the stands of the renovated Coliseum, USC defenders wanted to be able to take in the show.
"The best spot for the defense is on the sideline," he said. "That's what we tried to do this game."
The hottest new show in Los Angeles now begins a tour with dates against tough defensive opponents. BYU leads into a Friday night showdown with preseason Pac-12 South favorite Utah, and that takes the Trojans into road games at Washington and Notre Dame. What Slovis brings as an encore over these next few weeks shapes USC's season.
There may be misfires along the way. When asked about the injured Daniels earning the starting nod over Slovis in Week 1, Harrell said Slovis had "freshman mistakes" during fall camp that gave Daniels the edge. Still, the electricity he sparked in Week 2 isn't an aberration, either.
"From Day 1, I told you the kid's special," Harrell said. "He does a great job in our offense. You shouldn't be surprised when he comes out and performs like he did."
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Top photo courtesy of @USC_Athletics)