Freshmen are stepping into the spotlight and leading the charge for USC
It wasn’t a touchdown. It wasn’t even a first down. But Kedon Slovis’ 19-yard strike to Drake London on second and 20 against Colorado last Friday still sticks in Graham Harrell’s mind four days later.
To the first-year USC offensive coordinator, watching Slovis thread a ball up the seam to London may have been akin to a parent watching his child go from crawling to walking to running over the course of three weeks.
“In Notre Dame, we had that exact same situation and he didn’t throw it,” Harrell said of having London over the middle covered by just one defender whose back was turned to the quarterback.
Against Arizona, Slovis did throw it, earning a third-down completion in the 41-14 blowout. Then the freshman quarterback graduated to the highest level last week against Colorado as Slovis’ key pass to London contributed to USC’s game-winning drive.
“When the game’s up on the line in a big situation and [to] see him make that throw again and trust Drake and see Drake come up with it, I think it’s going to give them both a ton of confidence,” Harrell said Tuesday.
The Trojans, who host No. 7 Oregon on Saturday, are in the driver’s seat of the Pac-12 South with key freshmen emerging at quarterback, receiver and running back. Since returning from a concussion, Slovis has thrown eight touchdowns to just one interception in the last three games. London, a freshman from Moorpark High, has 137 of his season-total 199 yards receiving in the last two games. Injuries depleted USC’s stable of running backs, but they’ve revealed a budding star in freshman Kenan Christon, who has 179 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the last two games.
Under second-year coach Mario Cristobal, the Oregon Ducks have found great success recruiting in the Southland. Their recent classes have ranked well above USC and UCLA.
When asked of the young trio, Harrell could only chuckle.
“Most of the places that I’ve been, true freshmen haven’t been ready to play,” the former North Texas offensive coordinator said. “You get a little developed and little more developed kid [here] most of the time. … Those guys are just special guys.”
Christon and London are roommates on the road. When the Trojans (5-3, 4-1 Pac-12) were climbing back from a 10-point deficit against the Buffaloes, they focused on keeping their energy positive between each other. Christon and Slovis found kinship after they were both forced into starting roles because of injuries this season.
“I tell him all the time: I got you, you got me,” Christon said of his quarterback.
Christon acknowledged that he didn’t think his moment in the spotlight would come this quickly. He was the team’s fifth option at running back. Then he was counted on for critical pass protection against Colorado, caught a touchdown pass and had 14 carries for 76 yards, showing just how far his game has come in just a short time.
But as the soft-spoken running back rises up the depth chart, he remains grounded in improvement.
“I just want to help the team as much as I can,” Christon said. “If that means pass blocking all game, I’ll do that, but I just want us to go as far as we can.”
USC coach Clay Helton is growing very confident in freshman Kenan Christon’s ability to be an all-weather running back for the Trojans.
Rector, Steele return to practice
Defensive end Christian Rector (ankle) and defensive back Chris Steele (knee) returned to practice Tuesday. Rector, a senior, has missed two straight games with a lingering high ankle sprain, while Steele missed last week’s 35-31 win over Colorado after sustaining a minor injury in practice.
Freshman receiver Bru McCoy will not play this season, coach Clay Helton said Tuesday. McCoy, a highly touted prospect from Santa Ana Mater Dei who signed with USC, transferred to Texas after spring practice then rejoined the Trojans during the summer, was unable to practice early in the season because of a fever. … Defensive lineman Jacob Lichtenstein will undergo surgery on his calves to relieve pressure in the area. … Wide receiver Munir McClain underwent successful knee surgery Tuesday to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
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