Matt Fink will be the last scholarship quarterback standing for USC this Saturday in Seattle.
Freshman starter Kedon Slovis has been ruled out for the game against No. 17 Washington, after spending the week in the concussion protocol.
Coach Clay Helton is optimistic that Slovis will return following USC’s off week, when the Trojans prepare for their game at Notre Dame on Oct. 12. But for now, his absence leaves Fink, the redshirt junior, to helm the offense again.
“Any time you see someone hit the back of their head like Kedon did, you know it’s going to take some time,” Helton said. “But Matt handled it extremely well.”
That hasty arrangement under center worked about as well as it could have last week against Utah, after Slovis was slammed to the turf on the second play of the game.
Fink stepped in and immediately stretched the field with an array of deep balls. He finished with 351 yards passing and three touchdowns against one of the Pac-12’s best defenses, and USC soared past the Utes 30-23 and into the pole position in the Pac-12 South.
The No. 21 Trojans have no other choice but to hope Fink can do it again Saturday against the Huskies’ stifling secondary.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for me,” Fink said this week.
Still, it’s a nerve-wracking proposition for USC. With Slovis out, Fink’s backup will be Brandon Perdue, a walk-on, scout team quarterback, who converted from safety in the spring.
Perdue, who never started at quarterback during his high school tenure at Westlake Village Oaks Christian, bounced between college teams at Division II Pace University in New York, Pierce College in Woodland Hills and the New Mexico Military Institute.
He applied to USC only because his brother was accepted into the university’s PhD program. When his brother ultimately chose not to attend, Perdue continued on anyway. That’s when a friend and former walk-on USC quarterback, Holden Thomas, told him of an opening on the team.
Safe to say, he never expected then that he might be USC’s No. 2 quarterback at a crucial juncture in its season.
For Fink, who nearly transferred to Illinois last summer in search of a starting opportunity, that expectation has now become reality. He’ll be the third starting quarterback in five weeks for the Trojans (3-1, 2-0), who could find themselves with a stranglehold on the Pac-12 South should they leave Seattle with a victory.
That burden won’t solely lie on Fink’s shoulders. Helton said Thursday that a renewed rushing attack would go a long way toward making things easier for Fink in his first start, after USC’s running backs finished with 13 yards last week.
If Washington (3-1, 0-1) puts additional players near the line of scrimmage like Utah did, Helton said he has no qualms about letting Fink air it out again.
“This is a game where we hope we have balance,” Helton said. “Take a little pressure off of Matt. Take what the defense gives you. The greatest thing that happened to us last week is that we showed if you do load the box and play man, we can still throw the ball and be very effective throwing it.”
Hufanga, Griffin out
In addition to being without its quarterback, USC will play without two of its starting defensive backs against Washington’s top-flight passing attack.
Safety Talanoa Hufanga, who had 14 tackles a week ago, hasn’t been cleared from concussion protocol. He’ll be replaced by Chase Williams.
Cornerback Olaijah Griffin was also ruled out after dealing with back spasms and a bulging disk this week. In his place, freshman Chris Steele will get his second consecutive start.
Helton said he expects to see freshman Max Williams contribute, after missing playing time recovering from a knee injury.
“A lot of young players are getting their opportunity to show up,” Helton said.