Kedon Slovis stood on the practice field in his yellow quarterback jersey and white ball cap, watching closely over the decimated remains of USC’s quarterback depth chart.
A few yards away, Matt Fink, USC’s third-string signal caller to start the season, loosened his arm. Throwing opposite of him was a walk-on converted safety wearing No. 27, Brandon Perdue, who stood in the same spot Slovis did last month, before injuries and a transfer left the Trojans down three scholarship quarterbacks.
Slovis, who’d been thrust into the starting role just three weeks earlier himself, was unable to practice Tuesday as he waits to be cleared from the concussion protocol. His status for Saturday’s crucial trip to face No. 17 Washington is still very much in question.
More than likely, it will be Fink who again takes the reins of USC’s offense, which hummed with him at the helm last Friday. After Slovis had his head slammed against the grass on the game’s second play, the redshirt junior stepped in against No. 10 Utah and threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a stunning victory that changed the entire trajectory of USC’s season.
It was the kind of unexpected performance that begged questions of No. 21 USC’s immediate future at quarterback. And with another opportunity under center likely this weekend, the only remaining scholarship quarterback on the roster said Tuesday that he has every intention of continuing to compete for the starting job.
“Every day is a great opportunity,” Fink said. “Again, it sucks to see anyone on the team get hurt, but that leaves more opportunity and more doors open for myself. So I’m going to go ahead and take that and run with it.”
Whether Fink could actually rise up the depth chart with a second standout start remains to be seen. All throughout spring practice and fall camp, USC coach Clay Helton preached constant competition, while urging that each of his four scholarship quarterbacks could play anywhere in the country.
On Tuesday, when asked if competition would continue now, in light of Fink’s performance, Helton offered only a vague answer.
“You never know what the future holds,” Helton said. “Nobody has a crystal ball, but he’s done it the right way, each and every week. Right now, we’re in the moment where we have one quarterback that’s not medically cleared, one that’s practicing and getting reps. We’ll handle it week by week.”
With one scholarship quarterback likely available, keeping Fink upright will be of utmost importance this week against a Washington defense that ranks among the Pac-12’s best against the pass. Though neither Fink nor his coaches suggested they’d change the game plan to ensure he stays healthy.
“Obviously the coaches told me to be careful,” Fink said, “but my game is my game. I’m going to play it to the best of my ability. Obviously I’m going to protect myself because I know the situation, but I’m going to keep playing the way I play.”
If for any reason he can’t play, USC will have no choice but “to make the best of what you got,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. Perdue, the de facto No. 2, has worked on an offensive package that Harrell describes as “not real extensive”.
Past that, USC might have resort to handing the ball to one of its talented receivers. Tyler Vaughns, who ranks second on the team with 370 receiving yards, took a few reps at quarterback Tuesday -- just in case the situation under center really goes awry.
“Tyler is a great athlete, and he’s thrown a football,” Harrell said. “I’d put Amon-ra [St. Brown] back there. You have to get creative in that situation.”
Safety Talanoa Hufanga, who’s coming off a standout 14-tackle game against Utah, did not practice Tuesday, as he remains in the concussion protocol. Hufanga also suffered a minor knee sprain. His status is in doubt for Saturday. ...
Linebacker Jordan Iosefa is “getting closer” to a return, Helton said. The current goal is for him to return to for the Notre Dame game, following the week off. Iosefa suffered a dislocated patella during fall camp and was originally expected to miss four to six weeks. …
Cornerback Olaijah Griffin, who left Friday’s game with back spasms, did not practice, but he was able to run on the field during Tuesday’s practice. … Fellow cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart was cleared from concussion protocol and practiced Tuesday. … Defensive end Christian Rector, who sat out most of practice last week before playing through an ankle injury, is feeling better this week. He’s expected to play Saturday.