Decision in USC quarterback battle is expected soon

USC quarterback JT Daniels (18) reports to training camp at USC. With Daniels are teammates Scott Harris (16), Kedon Slovis (9) and Matt Fink (19).
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

For two weeks of fall camp, for better or worse, all USC quarterbacks were created equal. In a few days, that should no longer be the case.

A decision under center, where USC has contended all four of its scholarship signal callers would get a fair shake, is expected sooner rather than later.

USC coach Clay Helton wouldn’t say after Saturday’s scrimmage at the Coliseum when exactly that decision would be made — or whether it already had been. But Helton did say he and his new offensive coordinator, Graham Harrell, will evaluate the scrimmage tape of all four quarterbacks on Monday.


Considering Helton’s previous suggestion that the competition would go through Saturday’s scrimmage — and Harrell’s edict to narrow the competition down between scrimmages, that meeting could go a long way in determining who is under center this fall.

It has seemed all but certain through a dozen practices that JT Daniels will reprise his role as USC’s starter. The sophomore led the first drive Saturday, followed by freshman Kedon Slovis, then redshirt junior Matt Fink, and finally, sophomore Jack Sears. After the scrimmage, Helton said he was again reminded of how good each quarterback could be — and how much a close competition has helped all four.

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“I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never had four quarterbacks that could start on a lot of football teams across the country,” Helton said. “All have played at a high level. [The competition] has really progressed everybody. I’m so glad we’ve done this.”

Each quarterback had the opportunity to lead lengthy possessions during Saturday’s scrimmage, and none of them committed any turnovers. All four mounted touchdown drives, and each had at least one highlight throw down the field.

Daniels threaded the needle on more than a few occasions and appeared to be the most poised of the group. Both Fink and Sears hit sophomore wide receiver Amon-ra St. Brown on deep touchdown passes, and Slovis flashed his arm strength plenty, in spite of not completing his own long score.


But while Helton praised the quarterbacks’ poise, decision making and consistency, no single signal caller stood head and shoulders above the rest on Saturday, Daniels included.

Lucky for them, their receivers made the most of their opportunity in showing off USC’s revamped offense in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 at the revamped Coliseum.

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“I thought our receivers made some dynamic plays today,” Helton said. “That’s what they’re supposed to do. We have a rule, ‘If we touch it, we catch it.’ I thought they made some really good plays, and the quarterbacks gave them opportunities to make plays.”

The same couldn’t be said for USC’s running backs, who were shut down throughout Saturday’s scrimmage. Whether that’s a positive reflection on USC’s front seven or a serious concern for its backfield remains to be seen.

The Trojans are still without leading returning rusher Vavae Malepeai, who has been out for most of the last two weeks because of a knee injury. In his stead, the majority of opportunities went to Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp, both of whom have been praised throughout fall camp. On Saturday, neither managed to break a run of more than a few yards. More often than not, they were stuffed at — or behind — the line.


“I think it was just OK today,” Helton said of the run game. “It’s still a work in progress, just being honest.”


USC was unable to conduct its planned public tours of the Coliseum’s renovated Scholarship Tower on Saturday, as inspections are still being done on the updated building. Those who attended the scrimmage will, however, be offered a tour at a later date. … St. Brown (groin and hamstring) and redshirt sophomore linebacker Hunter Echols (turf toe) returned to the field for the scrimmage.