Ryan Kartje (LA Times) — The freshman quarterback stood alone, surveying the scene from an empty set. For Kedon Slovis, there would be no trial period, no slow ramp-up. USC’s offense was his now, for better or worse.
As his unexpected tenure began, he looked left, then right, as an anxious Coliseum crowd stared down at him, unsure what to expect.
But as Slovis settled in Saturday against No. 23 Stanford, that crippling uncertainty quickly turned to promising exhilaration. Those who know the 18-year-old best never doubted his poise, and here, for all to see, was evidence of what they’d long known.
This was a first start USC could’ve only dreamed about from a player who was never expected to play this year. Slovis threw confidently down the field, dropping deep bombs between defensive backs and hitting receivers on back-shoulder passes along the sideline. He stood strong in the pocket, unfazed by pressure.
As USC rolled past Stanford, 45-20, it was Slovis in the driver’s seat. A week after the Trojans lost JT Daniels, the touted signal-caller on which USC’s hopes seem to hinge, the overlooked, small-school, three-star recruit who’d sent USC his own scouting tape was the one reigniting hope in a season that seemed lost just a week ago.
Slovis completed 28 of 33 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start, and the Trojans (2-0) shut out the Cardinal in the second half.
Even as USC’s defense threatened to break in the first half, Slovis never so much as bent. On his first possession, he marched the Trojans’ up-tempo offense down the field on a scoring drive.
But while the freshman flashed unexpected poise from the start, USC’s defense began sloppy and undisciplined. Two quick scoring drives gave Stanford an early lead that felt like a serious uphill climb.
A stop on that short field, though, was all that Slovis needed to take control. He proceeded to dice up a Stanford secondary that had held Northwestern to a meager 117 yards a week ago.
That was hardly the case Saturday night, as Slovis cocked back his right arm on the next possession and launched a 39-yard bomb into the L.A. night. The high-arcing pass floated down between two Stanford defenders, landing perfectly in the outstretched arms of Amon-ra St. Brown for a touchdown.
Just 18 minutes into his first start, with 147 yards through the air, Slovis already had surpassed the passing total allowed by the Cardinal a week earlier.
USC still trailed, but its quarterback’s confidence only seemed to grow from there, as the Trojans fought out of their early deficit. After another scoring drive, punctuated by Stephen Carr’s third touchdown of the young season, Slovis marched USC down the field with the clock ticking down to halftime.
He fired a perfect, third-down pass to Tyler Vaughns along the sideline for 31 yards. He slipped out of a sack. Then, with 31 seconds remaining in the half, he hit St. Brown again for a seven-yard score and a 24-20 lead.
From there, USC’s defense decided to follow his lead. Stanford’s offense, led by its own, less impressive backup quarterback, Davis Mills, ground to a halt.
A taxing, 14-play Cardinal drive to start the third quarter ended in a missed field goal. Stanford’s next possession began near midfield but didn’t advance much farther, as USC’s defense clamped down.
Stanford’s next field goal attempt was blocked, and from there, Slovis shut the door, leading two more touchdown drives for good measure.
Vaughns topped 100 yards for the second time in as many games, finishing with 106 on five catches, and St. Brown had 97 on eight receptions.
But as the fourth quarter wound down, it was obvious whom Saturday night’s victory was about. With a victory in hand, the student section began chanting his name.
“We love Slo-vis!” they screamed.
After a first start for the ages by their freshman quarterback, they weren’t the only ones.