As soon as Kedon Slovis’ head hit the Coliseum turf, everything went dark.
For a few moments, just two plays into an upset win over Utah, the USC freshman quarterback lay on his back, blacked out. The first thing he remembers hearing, as he regained consciousness, was the voice of running back Vavae Malepeai, telling him to stay down. But his instinct told him to stay in the game, so Slovis tried to stand up. As he did, he stumbled and blacked out again.
The concussion Slovis suffered on that opening drive would ultimately keep him out for the majority of two games, including all of USC’s trip to Washington, where his replacement, Matt Fink, had three passes intercepted in a disillusioning Pac-12 defeat.
But on Tuesday, just a few days after his concussion symptoms finally subsided, Slovis was cleared to return to noncontact practice.
The timing of his return suggests that Slovis will almost certainly reprise his role as starting quarterback when the Trojans visit No. 9 Notre Dame after the off week.
“He’s not cleared for contact yet,” coach Clay Helton said, “but it’s good to get him out here, get him throwingand get him exerted. We’ll go through the week allowing both quarterbacks to get better and we’ll see where we are medically heading into next week.”
Last week, as USC found itself down to a single scholarship quarterback in the wake of his injury, Slovis was unable to shake a constant headache. While the Trojans basked in the afterglow of a huge Pac-12 win over Utah, he spent the Sunday after his injury lying in a dark, quiet room.
It wasn’t the first time he experienced the aftermath of a concussion. A year ago, in his senior season at Desert Mountain High in Scottsdale, Ariz., Slovis suffered one in almost identical fashion, as his head slammed into the turf after a hit.
“But I popped right back up,” Slovis said. “The symptoms didn’t hit until like two drives later. My vision got really blurry, so I couldn’t see the signals on the sideline. That’s when I knew something was up.”
Slovis assured on Tuesday that he no longer felt any concussion symptoms. Still, with an off week upon them, USC’s staff isn’t going to take any chances.
On Tuesday, Fink said he was still preparing as if he were the starter. But offensive coordinator Graham Harrell made clear that, assuming Slovis has a clean bill of health by next Saturday, he’ll return to his spot atop the depth chart.
“The most important thing is for him to get healthy,” Harrell said. “When he does get healthy, I’d plan on playing him.”
His last performance while fully healthy, though, was hardly a memorable one. Three weeks ago, in overtime against Brigham Young, Slovis threw a back-breaking interception, his third that day, in overtime.
“He’s still a true freshman,” Harrell reiterated on Tuesday. “At times, a true freshman is going to make some mistakes.”
Those turnovers were a problem again last week, even with Slovis out of the lineup, as two of Fink’s three interceptions came in particularly brutal circumstances.
Ironing out those issues will be of the utmost importance before USC takes to the road again. No team in the nation has been better in turnover margin than Notre Dame, which has forced 13 turnovers in five weeks, while giving the ball away just four times. USC, on the other hand, ranks 124th in the nation in turnover margin at minus-seven.
Slovis, back for his first practice in over a week, believes there’s an easy fix.
“You just have to stay disciplined,” Slovis said. “On every single interception that me and Matt have had, it’s the same thing, just staying disciplined. If we go through our reads, we’re not going to have that issue.”
Safety Talanoa Hufanga, who also spent the last week in concussion protocol, was cleared to return to noncontact practice. He should play against Notre Dame. … Cornerback Olaijah Griffin (back) was a full participant on Tuesday after missing the Washington game. … A decision is expected soon on whether offensive guard Andrew Vorhees, who’s dealing with a foot injury, will play again this season. Vorhees is eligible to redshirt. … Helton said he hopes “this is a week that allows us to catch up healthwise,” and as such, several players were given the day off Tuesday in order to recover from nagging injuries, including running back Vavae Malepeai (knee), wideout Amon-ra St. Brown (foot, shoulder) and defensive end Christian Rector (high ankle sprain).