Kedon Slovis and USC dominate Stanford

September 8, 2019

Despite losing JT Daniels for the season to a torn ACL and meniscus, it looks as if USC will be just fine.

True freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis torched No. 23 Stanford’s defense Saturday night in-front of a rocking Coliseum crowd, completing almost 85 percent of his throws for 377 yards and three touchdowns as USC rocked Stanford, 45-20.

“We knew his talent and we understood the type of players our quarterbacks are,” USC head coach Clay Helton said of Slovis. “Even though he’s young, we named him the No. 2 for a reason. Let’s cut him loose.” 

Slovis, who became just the fifth USC true freshman to start at quarterback, finished with a 210.8 QBR and the Trojan air-raid offense looked as quick-hitting and efficient as ever. His completion percentage and passing yards both set USC true freshman records for a first career start.

“I thought (the performance) was pretty good,” Slovis said. “But at the same time, how good is it with these guys? It doesn’t show how well I did but how good a team we have.”

USC outgained Stanford in total offense, 492-335, doing so in five fewer plays. The Trojans gained 8.07 yards per play to the Cardinal’s 5.08. Stanford interestingly won the time of possession battle, but weren’t nearly as effective with the ball.

Fellow back-up quarterback and Stanford junior signal caller Davis Mills (22-of-36, 237 yards and one score) held his own as well, but USC stole the game’s momentum down the stretch of the second quarter.

Mills said, “We prepared very well this week (and) weren’t surprised by anything.”

Despite USC hurting itself with four penalties and one turnover, Slovis guided the Trojans out of a 14-point second-quarter hole. USC entered halftime with a 24-20 lead behind Slovis’ impressive 17-of-20, 249-yard, two score performance. Slovis held a 222.6 QBR and completed passes to seven different receivers.

Across the sideline, Mills also came to play for the first two quarters. Mills threw for 114 yards and one touchdown, completing over 58 percent of his passes. It’s safe to say Slovis gained an early edge in the battle of the back-ups, considering his higher efficiency throughout the first half. He also put the Trojans ahead, despite Mills getting off to a strong first-quarter start.

Slovis came out of the gates slinging. He completed four passes for 70 yards on his first drive, including a 45-yard catch-and-run to fellow true freshman Drake London. A strong Slovis-to-Amon-Ra St. Brown connection became apparent early. Of Slovis’ 17 first-half completions, seven went to St. Brown.

“We all knew Kedon was a great quarterback and then saw him in the spring and he looked great,” St. Brown said. “Going into the spring and fall it was (a) QB competition and we didn’t really have a starter named, and repped all the quarterbacks. We didn’t care who was out there, the receivers just were catching balls.” 

Both of the true freshman quarterback’s first-half touchdowns found St. Brown and the sophomore gained 94 yards. St. Brown finished the game with eight catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns.

Slovis’ first-half success through the air also opened up the USC running game, which struggled out of the gates. Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai gained just seven yards in the first quarter, but entered halftime with a combined statline of 11 carries for 60 yards and one score. 

For the first time in - well, a long time - USC left the first half with positive momentum. 

One of the only USC wideouts Slovis didn’t hit during the first half, senior captain Michael Pittman Jr., caught his first pass on the third quarter’s first play. He gained five yards and came off the field slow for the next play, but soon returned.

USC began the drive pinned inside its own territory, at the 21, after Stanford missed a 39-yard field goal. Slovis nearly found tight end Josh Falo down the right center of the field, but released the ball a moment too late. He took a four-yard sack on third down and the Trojans were forced into a punt.

When in trouble, Mills consistently looked for Connor Wedington. 

“Davis played well,” Wedington said. “We missed some shots down the field, but I know Davis, he’s going to get in the film room, work on some of the things that went wrong today and come back stronger.”

Wedington tiptoed the left sideline and hauled in a 25-yard Mills throw to get Stanford out of third-and-long, but Austin Jackson tipped a 47-yard Jet Toner field goal attempt moments later to give Slovis the ball back at his own 30.

Next up, Pittman was due for some second-half receptions to catch up to the rest of his USC teammates. Slovis got the job done, hooking up with Pittman on three consecutive plays. 

The Slovis-to-Pittman third quarter connection was highlighted by a miraculous catch down the right sideline, in which Slovis perfectly placed his throw over the top of Stanford defensive back Obi Eboh’s head. Pittman held onto the ball for a 30-yard gain and Malepeai scored a 4-yard touchdown to put USC up by double digits one play after.

USC redshirt sophomore cornerback Greg Johnson kept the Trojans’ momentum going with an interception of Mills. Malepeai scored shortly after to give USC an 18-point advantage with time winding down in the fourth quarter. Slovis tossed his third touchdown of the game to Tyler Vaughns with roughly six minutes to play, USC leading by 25 points.

USC’s success through the air helped on the ground. The Trojans’ second quarter rushing momentum continued throughout the game’s final two quarters, Carr and Malepeai gaining a total of 81 yards to go with three touchdowns.

There’s no doubt the Kedon Slovis era is off to a dazzling start, but USC’s schedule only gets more difficult from here on out. A road matchup with BYU, coming off a 29-26 win over Tennessee, awaits the Trojans in Week 3. Preseason Pac-12 media favorite No. 13 Utah then heads to the Coliseum, before USC plays at No.14 Washington and No. 8 Notre Dame.

Can Kedon Slovis guide the Trojans to Pac-12 supremacy? Possibly. Time will tell, especially within the next four games. For now, USC fans can bask in something they haven’t had much of throughout the past few months - good momentum - and enjoy it to the fullest.

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