USC football is getting ready to take on No. 23 Stanford at home Saturday with sophomore starting quarterback JT Daniels out for the season with a torn ACL and meniscus. All eyes will be on USC’s new starting quarterback — true freshman Kedon Slovis.
Having already beat out redshirt junior Matt Fink and redshirt sophomore Jack Sears for the backup job during his short time at USC, Slovis should not be taken lightly. It might be a rocky start during his first few games, but he impressed against Fresno State by remaining collected despite being thrown into a high pressure situation.
The key for Slovis, a talented player with impressive fundamentals, will be gaining experience. Saturday was his first time competing at the college level, and suddenly he’s been thrust into the role of QB1.
USC’s Air Raid offense is meant to be simple. With a true freshman anchoring the offense, coaches will need to maintain that simplicity. Head coach Clay Helton emphasized that the playbook is still wide open for the team as he expressed confidence in his new starting signal-caller.
“Kedon’s going out there to lead our football team, and I don’t want him looking over his shoulder,” Helton said. “He won the number two position. We had a hurt quarterback and [Kedon’s] going to walk out there and be the No. 1 quarterback.”
USC will not be the only team on the field starting its backup signal-caller, though. Stanford senior quarterback K.J. Costello has been ruled out after a hard hit to the chin during the Cardinal’s victory over Northwestern on Saturday. Junior Davis Mills will take the reigns in Costello’s absence.
Stanford junior offensive tackle Walker Little sustained a leg injury last Saturday and will definitely not be on the field this weekend — or the next five games after that. Having been named first team All-Pac-12 last season as a sophomore, this is a significant loss for the Cardinal.
This week, the Trojans placed an emphasis on tackling and forcing fumbles, and sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga said physicality will be the team’s focus against Stanford.
Hufanga, projected to have a big year after recovering from the broken and re-broken collarbone that cut his 2018 season and spring camp short, showed his potential with eight tackles against Fresno State and has already provided a glimpse into that physicality.
“We’re just playing fast and playing free,” he said. “And trying to put a simple defense together, so we can go out there and execute.”
Stanford plays good situational football, and its pro-style offense is different from what the Trojans faced during spring and fall camp. Beyond that, the Cardinal have a strong downfield passing game.
Stanford tends to mix different personnel groups, meaning it could play several different combinations of fullbacks, tight ends and wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. The biggest challenges for USC will not only be those personnel matchups and formations, but also getting a feel for how Stanford executes its plays, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said.
Pendergast was pleased with the effort he saw on the field Saturday against Fresno State.
“[I] was really happy with the rotation we were able to go with up front on the defensive line. I think that paid off,” he said. “It’s nice to see waves of guys go out there at one time and get productive plays out of them. I thought the back seven at times worked well together, and at times that’s an area where we need to continue to improve.”
USC defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a noted Stanford recruits to its strength: its offensive line. Though Mills is not the Cardinal’s regular starter, he should not be disregarded by the Trojans. The one thing the USC defensive line needs to clean up from last week, Kauha’aha’a said, is corralling the quarterback.
“[Stanford head coach David] Shaw is a master offensive mind, so whatever situation they’re in, they’ll have them ready,” Kauha’aha’a said. “So we have to take that approach, whether it’s the starting All-American in there or the number two, number three offensive lineman in there, we take the same approach.”
A lot is uncertain in this upcoming game against Stanford, not only in terms of quarterbacks but also how USC as a whole will play against a powerful Pac-12 team. Athletic Director Lynn Swann said USC’s goal this season is to win the Pac-12 championship. This first week of conference play should provide a sign as to whether or not the Trojans are capable of doing that.