Slovis Hopes to Cement His Stature as Starter

Can USC quarterback Kedon Slovis keep his job with a victory over Notre Dame?

Ryan Kartje (LA Times)  —  A fired coach. A .500 record. A trio of humbling losses at home. It’s safe to say the first half of USC’s season didn’t exactly go as planned.

The same could be said for Notre Dame, albeit with much less catastrophic results. The 13th-ranked Irish are 5-1, with their loss coming against No. 2 Cincinnati. But the first half of its own season was hardly a smooth ride, with three wins of three points or fewer.

A bye last week offered both bitter rivals a much-needed reset. But as USC embarks on the second half of its season with a trip to South Bend, Ind., it’s not going to get any easier. The Trojans enter the game as seven-point underdogs, in desperate need of a bounce-back performance.

Could we see a different team emerge after the bye week? It’s possible. But it’s been a decade since USC won at Notre Dame. A difficult task lies ahead as USC kicks off against its rival at 4:30 p.m. on NBC.

Slovis the starter

Dynamic freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart is nearing a return after missing a month following minor knee surgery, but he has yet to be cleared for contact, meaning there won’t be a quarterback competition just yet at USC.

Kedon Slovis will have at least one more Saturday to prove he deserves to remain USC’s quarterback until the end of the season. The last time the Trojans were in South Bend, Slovis nearly orchestrated a furious second-half comeback. From there, his freshman season started to take off.

Could this Saturday offer a similar launch point for the rest of Slovis’ season? Perhaps. With Dart’s return looming, there’s no better time for Slovis to prove himself than in a marquee rivalry game on the road.

Kedon has been really sharp,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “The ball is jumping out of his hand.”

Triple threat

Notre Dame’s quarterback situation is somehow even less certain. In recent weeks, for a variety of reasons, the Irish have used three different passers.

Senior Jack Coan opened the season as the starter, but he was replaced by redshirt freshman Drew Pyne in Notre Dame’s victory over Wisconsin. Both, however, have recently ceded time to true freshman Tyler Buchner, who’s more of a rushing threat. Buchner had 67 yards rushing and a touchdown to go with 113 yards and a passing touchdown in the Irish’s most recent win over Virginia Tech.

Coan has been the primary quarterback for most of the season, but might that change coming out of the bye? It’s unclear.

“I think Coach [Brian] Kelly would probably like to put his hand on one of them and say, hey, this is the guy that we’re going to go with,” USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said, “but we’ve prepared for all three of them. Expecting to see different things out of them.”

Grounded ground game

In its run to the College Football Playoff last season, Notre Dame relied heavily on a rushing attack that ranked among the best in the nation. Only six teams ran the ball more in 2020.

But after being forced to retool its offensive line ahead of 2021, that success hasn’t translated in the slightest a year after its playoff run. In fact, Notre Dame has been worse than USC running the ball this season.

The Irish still deploy the same stellar running back in sophomore Kyren Williams, but after averaging 5.3 yards per carry as a freshman, he’s had trouble finding room to run. Williams is averaging just 3.85 yards per carry this season, and the rest of the backfield has been even worse — the Irish rank 123rd in the nation in that category.

A struggling USC rush defense could be the salve Notre Dame needs. Aside from its win over Colorado, in which USC allowed just over two yards per carry, the Trojans allowed Oregon State and Utah to average nearly six yards per carry with five total touchdowns on the ground. Neither has a running back as talented as Williams.

“They lost a whole bunch of experienced offensive linemen,” Orlando said. “Everybody knows that. But their skill guys are all guys who were in the playoff. They know what it takes. They’re dynamic guys, and they’re all really, really good athletes, their running backs especially.”

latimes.com

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TrojanRJJ
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TrojanRJJ(@trojanrjj)
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October 22, 2021 10:43 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

UofA has the ability to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. They had this one won and gave it away. Very similar to what happened against SC in 2020.

TrojanRJJ
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October 23, 2021 7:06 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I am probably one of 10 people who watched it. Just like the 2020 SC game, the UW QB was awful for the first half and the UW D was a sieve. In the 2nd half, the UW QB started hitting his passes. The Wildcats were driving for what would have been the winning score in the middle of the 4th Q, but their QB threw a pick on a screen on the UW 20. The UW QB then repeated 2020 Kedon Solvis and started throwing lasers, and that opened the running game. The Wildcats are awful. They had 11… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
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October 23, 2021 8:01 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

UW under Lake looked a lot like USC under Helton. They were just awful for 3/4’s of the game and then got hot and lucky at the end to beat a team that had no business being on the field with them. UW as at least 3 TDs better than UofA. The game was “Helton ugly”.

RialtoTrojan
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October 22, 2021 6:35 pm

They’re going to bring Dart in on crutches for the pregame, he’ll be wearing a home jersey and just tossing the ball like a backup. Then he’ll come out of the locker room before the kickoff surrounded by teammates. He will be a surprise starter. If this happens I’ll be able to say “told ya so.” If not you’ll think I was joking.

RialtoTrojan
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October 22, 2021 10:13 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

If it happens you can say,”told ya” if not,”made you look.” Either way it would be gamesmanship for Donte

Chris
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October 22, 2021 5:50 pm

Just read that Mike Tomlin might be interested in the job. Can’t imagine that it would be the case, but that would be a home run. A huge home run, can’t imagine a better candidate.

Steveg
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October 22, 2021 7:01 pm
Reply to  Chris

LSU or USC? Not sure if that isn’t just some media bs being spread, perhaps by Tomlin’s agent.

volunteerTrojan
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October 23, 2021 6:51 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Too bad. Tomlin would’ve fit the world class bill. Only reason he’d come if he doesn’t fancy rebuilding after Ben and wants to try something totally new. New thought provoking and exciting names like this are what I like to hear.

Steveg
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Steveg(@steveg)
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October 22, 2021 3:38 pm

To be honest I have to admit I am a big Slovis supporter. Yes he has fallen off from his previous seasons, but he still has that arm that we got so excited about to begin with. Dart is a dual threat and is a very good qb in my opinion, but until Slovis totally flops I hope Slovis gets the start and has the game of his life. Just block for him.