Can Slovis Cut It in South Bend?

He never got the chance. USC’s freshman quarterback was concussed on the second play of its game against Utah, then sat out the next week against Washington, leaving third-string quarterback Matt Fink as the only option under center.

But as the Trojans return recharged from a much-needed week off, so will Slovis. With No. 9 Notre Dame on tap in a crucial road rivalry matchup Saturday, Slovis is officially set to step back into his starting role, coach Clay Helton said Tuesday.

It’s hardly a soft landing spot for a freshman quarterback who’s been sidelined for multiple weeks. Notre Dame’s secondary is among the best in the nation, with only 183 yards passing allowed per game and only three touchdowns allowed through the air all season. And at home in South Bend, Ind., that group has been even better, as opposing quarterbacks have completed only 55% of passes.

Slovis, meanwhile, has yet to prove his mettle on the road. In his first collegiate game away from the Coliseum, he struggled to find any semblance of rhythm, as BYU dropped eight defenders into zone coverage, forcing him to throw into tight windows. He responded with three picks.

Those windows will only get tighter this weekend in a far more hostile environment. But as far as Slovis and USC’s coaches are concerned, his issues on the road three weeks ago have little to do with what he’ll face in South Bend on Saturday.

“I don’t think it was the atmosphere or the moment,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “That’s what I’ve been impressed with him about. Since the day he’s been here, I don’t think it’s ever been too big of a moment for him. He never had the big eyes or the deer-in-the-headlights look. He always carried himself with confidence and expects good things to happen.”

In his first road tilt, it was a lack of discipline that doomed Slovis — and, by extension, USC’s offense. The freshman found himself skipping reads and pressing after throwing his first two picks.

In South Bend, the same issues would be a recipe for disaster. Notre Dame ranks second in the nation in turnover margin at plus-10, while USC is a paltry 122nd at minus-seven. Any such turnover disparity Saturday could end an upset bid in a hurry.

But with Slovis returning, so should the more efficient passing attack that fell by the wayside the past two weeks with Fink at the helm. In spite of his four interceptions this season, Slovis still ranks second in the nation in completion percentage at 77.9%, trailing only Louisiana State’s Joe Burrow.

Out of the concussion protocol last Monday, a healthy Slovis had all of last week to find his rhythm again through the air. Whether that’ll be enough in a hostile environment, against one of the nation’s top pass defenses, remains to be seen.

“We had that bye week, and even though he wasn’t cleared for contact, he began throwing,” Helton said. “He began working with the receivers last week during the bye, and that helps to garner those reps. Being cleared and practicing, he does not look out of form to me. He looks really good.”

Stepp’s homecoming

Two years ago, as a senior at Cathedral Prep in Indiana, Markese Stepp had plans of playing at Notre Dame. But when former running backs coach Deland McCullough headed to USC, those plans changed in a hurry.

Now, Stepp will return home to play the team he once committed to play for, and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t a little extra motivated this week.

“It adds a lot to this game,” he said.

As his workload increases, Saturday’s game could also add a lot to his resume. Stepp carried the ball a career-high 10 times before the week off, and Helton said Tuesday that he envisions the redshirt freshman running back garnering more opportunities in the coming weeks.

That doesn’t mean that USC has any plans of stopping its relatively even backfield split among Stepp, Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr.

“We’ve just got a lot of guys back there, and you can’t get them all touches,” Harrell said. “I think we’ve done a good job getting him touches, and when he has the ball, he’s done a pretty good job with it. I don’t think his role will be increased or decreased much from what it’s been because we have three guys that we feel really good about, that we feel like need to be in the game.”

Etc.

Safety Talanoa Hufanga (concussion protocol) and cornerback Olaijah Griffin (back) are both expected to return to action against Notre Dame. … Linebacker Jordan Iosefa, who was aiming to return this week, is still not cleared for contact in his recovery from surgery on a dislocated kneecap. … USC’s next home game against Arizona on Oct. 19 will kick off at 6:30 p.m.

latimes.com

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Scipio
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For the players, most of all, I am pulling for a win. This is a rivalry they will always remember and a win at ND will be a nice memory. However, I hope it will be a typical CCH ugly win. I think Helton is gone regardless of this game. The only thing I believe would extend the purgatory the rest of us are in would be for him win the Rose Bowl. I am looking for flying pigs also.

LawyerJohn
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Game is but 72-hours away, so time to start getting excited with SC-ND memories: The blogger has been to South Bend 4-times, I believe, and I have 3 under my belt, and we have never experienced an SC victory. Fortunately, neither of us is going this year, so perhaps the Trojans have a chance. Not! … It is a magical place, the Notre Dame campus and stadium, or perhaps that is because I choose to see it that way. But their fans are like no others I have encountered throughout the nation. In 1999 they willed their team to victory,… Read more »

Golden Trojan
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The weather in South Bend for Saturday is sunny, windy high of 51. Good football weather except for the wind.

Steveg
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Is USC really flying to ND on Friday, arriving in the evening? Great prep work by stellar staff. What are these people thinking.

Trojan5
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Don’t they normally fly out on Thursday? Where did you hear/see that they were flying Friday? In light of recent results maybe going later rather than earlier may not be a bad idea.

Paul_Muad_dib
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Just another brilliant Helton move.

Paul_Muad_dib
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It’s sad to admit, but I’m hoping for a close USC loss so Helton can finally get canned. I can’t stand to watch a Helton coached team anymore. Takes all the fun out of it.

Steveg
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With the culture in USC football where it is, I cannot see USC keeping Helton no matter what happens at ND or ucla. A change is inevitable and with Meyer standing on the front porch knocking at the door I have resigned myself to accepting him as the new coach. I would at least have some expectations that are positive if that takes place and that is something I have not had in a few years. Now lets root for a win and hopefully the administration at SC is hearing us loud and clear. If not then we sure need… Read more »

Paul_Muad_dib
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If Clay cared about the fans’ feelings like he does his players, then he would step down. However I don’t think he cares about the SC fanbase. He is contempt with telling them lies and non sequiturs. I’ll secretly be rooting for a W, but I have no confidence in this team at all. Not with hugs in charge.

Jamaica
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There are a few stadiums I wouldn’t like a freshman QB with little experience to start, due to the atmosphere there. One of them is Notre Dame stadium. The Irish fans will rev up their noise beyond normal when it comes to playing USC and they will be packed in there like a can of sardines. Slovis will have to do all he can to ignore that setting.

Golden Trojan
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So Stepp is at least better than Carr, looks better than VM, but still Helton refuses to start him. Wouldn’t want to upset the fragile egos of the upper classmen and set a tough tone. I would like to see how Stepp does as the starter.

UtahTrojan
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One of the many problems with Helton (too many to list here). He reuses to play the best player by always giving the benefit of doubt to the upper classmen (Toa).

Paul_Muad_dib
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Its really pathetic. Almost like he’s afraid of his players turning on him…

Golden Trojan
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“Afraid his players will turn on him.” Could be a very good observation.

Paul_Muad_dib
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That goes against everything Helton stands for, which is everyone being as happy as possible in their safe space. USC is the happiest team in the NCAA by a large margin.

Steveg
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Toa set a standard for players to stay as starters. Helton has ended any and all competition for positions on this team, at least it sure appears that way.

Jack B
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At least Clay Helton isn’t shoving himself in front of the cameras this season nearly as often as last year when he insisted on making a fool of himself, again and again, trying to explain how USC was almost winning so many games and wasn’t really getting physically beat in games, like many of us observed. Fight On and beat the Irish in South Bend! Helton’s leadership doesn’t give USC much of a chance on Saturday, but we are SC after all, the program that has beaten ND more than any other school. Helton’s 1-3 vs ND. It’s about time… Read more »

Steveg
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Wow Jack, you almost sound like a rah rah. LOL Great to see you on here.

Jack B
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If USC would bring on Urban Meyer as the next USC savior, you’d really see my rah rah side. Such tough times for USC football now. Sadly, it doesn’t need to be this way. So much could be quickly done to drastically improve USC’s team. Hopefully, the school itself cares as much about USC’s tradition as we all do. But I’m not so sure about that.

Steveg
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Slovis will be cool as a cucumber, the noise won’t affect him. They need to walk him into the stadium early and let the touchdown Jesus, the statues, and gates all get seen and then he can get over it. He will throw a pick, I just hope not a pick six. He will throw for TD’s, and as long as OL does its job, Slovis will be okay. This game blatantly shows the coaching deficiencies of the USC HC and DC. The jury is still out on the OC, but he will get a lot of scrutiny this week… Read more »

RialtoTrojan
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It would really help if the rooting section would chant his last name the way they did for the Stanfurd game. I know Slovis will be cool because he played high school in a wildly successful program with the stands always full on Friday nights…oh that was JT? well he’ll be okay and if not we can always go to plan B

Jamaica
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Kedon is going to get rattled some. You just have to accept that fact. He has never experienced this setting before and it will take him time to get over it. It is a big game against a top 10 foe and your big rival. The stadium will be packed to the limit. It will seem like the fans are looking over your shoulders smelling blood. If he is going to throw a pick, let it be in the beginning of the game so he can then relax some and not worry about it so much anymore. The receivers really… Read more »

LawyerJohn
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Saying anything positive about Helton around here is like a mainland Chinese guy stating that he agrees with the Houston Rockets’ General Manager who sympathizes with Hong Kong. You can get years in jail over there for what you say. Around here all you get for controversial positions is some sarcasm, which has about the same effect as 2 flies on a rhino’s back. So what is the poor guy (Helton) supposed to say?– “We just lost to Washington. Thanks guys, that finishes off my career. And so now we go to Notre Dame where you can put the final… Read more »

RialtoTrojan
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LJ I can say positive things about Helton here. I’m positive Helton is in over his head but he means well. I am positive that Helton will be fired sooner rather than later and it couldn’t happen to a more sincere guy. I am positive that Helton will try to win the game, I wish I could be positive about the results.

TrojanRJJ
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John, I think we all know what Clay is as a HC – he is trying to apply a familial relationship based management model to an extremely performance based industry. It has failed. Clay is unwilling to admit the failure and is clinging to a delusion. For instance, he will not practice hard or physically because of fear of injury to his “kids” – thus they are unprepared for most games, mentally soft, and for the most part fail to develop. Another instance is he playing favorites – he is more concerned about his relationship to a player than doing… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
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Allen, First, thanks for all the information on the program. I really do appreciate this blog. I think the last post sums up Clay’s future – he can lose the fan base and the media but he cannot lose the recruits. If the Administration wishes to save the program, it cannot have the talent base erode. That destroyed both UCLA and Nebraska. And Clay is now eroding the talent base. You gave us all hope with your report yesterday that Urban Meyer has been offered. It is now clear that the decision to reverse the decline of the football program… Read more »