Football focused on BYU despite distractions

Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis impressed in his starting debut against Stanford in a 45-20 trouncing of the Cardinal. Slovis will have another full week of first-team reps to prepare against BYU. (Tal Volk | Daily Trojan) 

Just five days ago, USC’s football program was considered hopeless. The shock of sophomore quarterback JT Daniels’ season-ending injuries dissipated and was replaced by talk of head coach Clay Helton’s job security and modest hope that USC would compete with Stanford. 

On Saturday night, USC not only competed with Stanford but embarrassed the Cardinal to the tune of a 45-20 blowout at the Coliseum. Daniels’ replacement, true freshman Kedon Slovis, debuted with 377 passing yards and three touchdowns. His introduction was met with universal praise. 

Despite the buzz, the team remains level-headed at practice. With the first road game of  the season approaching, Helton doesn’t want to focus on headlines — just football. 

New Star, Same Kedon

Over the weekend, Slovis became a sensation. At practice, the new star was quick to redirect the praise. 

“I threw for an 85% completion percentage but that wasn’t because of how well I did,” Slovis said. “It was because of [the wide receivers] giving me a lot of room for error. They give me a lot of security — to be able to throw the ball out there and just let them make plays.”

Slovis didn’t just save his compliments for those on the field, either.

“[Daniels] has been great,” he said. “He’s been a great teammate, especially for what happened to him. He’s facing adversity and trying to do his best for the team.”

 Slovis is taking advantage of his new starting role at practice. During the four-month quarterback battle leading up to the season opener, USC coaches opted for a democratic competition in which all four quarterbacks got the same number of reps each practice. Since becoming the starter, the young quarterback’s reps have increased.  

“I think just a week of practice to get reps with the [starters] was the biggest difference last  week,” Slovis said. “[The game] definitely slowed down and a week of preparation with anyone definitely helps. You just get so many more reps when you’re the starting quarterback.”

The Passing Game

Six wide receivers and two tailbacks caught passes from Slovis Saturday. Even though BYU’s defense is traditionally stout, the Trojans don’t intend on changing their game plan. At practice, redshirt junior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns was not worried about his personal number of touches. 

“Just knowing that we might have 70 snaps a game —  everyone’s going to touch the ball,” Vaughns said after practice Tuesday. “Knowing that you don’t really have to worry about the ball, you just worry about your brother eating and we just all feed off of it.”

BYU is not ranked but is coming off a big weekend after upsetting Tennessee in Knoxville. With a pivotal Pac-12 game against Utah the week after, many view Saturday as a potential trap game for USC.

Coming off a career-high 150 receiving yards against Fresno State, Vaughns emphasized that the passing game’s success over the weekend would not impact their preparation at practice. 

“We just prepare the same,” he said. “We don’t focus too much on the opponent. We just focus on the defense, obviously, and their scheme. We try to do what we do at the easiest pace and at the fastest pace and in the easiest way.”

New Athletic Director

Slovis and the Trojans’ passing game is not the only USC sports headline of the week. Athletic Director Lynn Swann resigned Monday after three years with the Trojans. The news was abrupt and shocked many, but Helton is making sure the team stays focused on the game. 

“We have a job and one of the things you have to realize is that this is USC,” Helton said Tuesday. “This is Los Angeles and this is the second largest media market in the world. Distractions and the lights always come and it’s our job to put it aside and be able to focus on the mission at hand.”