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Kedon Slovis and USC’s offense don’t show much in spring game at Coliseum

Running back Keaontay Ingram carries the ball past defensive back Chris Steele (8) during the USC spring game April 17, 2021.
Running back Keaontay Ingram carries the ball past defensive back Chris Steele (8) during the USC spring game Saturday at the Coliseum.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

It began with a dull roar, rising from bleachers that long sat empty. It grew louder as Keaontay Ingram, USC’s new transfer running back, stiff-armed one defender. Then louder still, as he bypassed another would-be tackler, breaking free along the Coliseum sideline.

By the time Ingram cut back across the field, sparking one of the few big plays of Saturday’s spring game for USC, a stadium filled with a few thousand socially distanced fans had broken into its first full-throated cheer since 2019. After more than a year of empty bleachers, cardboard fans and pandemic protocols, here was the long-awaited exhale, a joyful moment of college football catharsis.

The fans wouldn’t get many more of those moments. Not as USC’s offensive line continued its spring struggles, allowing eight sacks and slowing any semblance of rhythm for either the Cardinal or Gold teams. Not as the Trojans’ quarterbacks turned the ball over five times in the first public appearance of two freshmen seen as the future at the position.

“It was a development day all the way around, for a lot of people,” USC coach Clay Helton said.

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Highlights from the USC spring football game Saturday at the Coliseum.

It was the Cardinal team, led by junior quarterback Kedon Slovis, that ultimately prevailed, beating the Gold 27-7. But it wasn’t as if Slovis set the Coliseum ablaze with his spring performance. While JT Daniels, the quarterback he dethroned, lit up Georgia’s spring game thousands of miles away, Slovis was decent but uninspiring, mixing a few impressive downfield throws with a bad interception.

There were plenty of mistakes from USC’s signal callers to go around. But the highlight-reel throws were largely reserved for freshman Jaxson Dart. He hit Drake London on a back-shoulder throw for 30 yards early on, then found freshman Michael Jackson on a tight sideline pass for 26 yards. Dart finished the game with a goal-line fade that Jackson again reeled in with one hand.

“What a nice play at the end of the game there,” Helton said.

USC wide receiver Michael Jackson celebrates a touchdown during the spring game April 17, 2021.
USC freshman wide receiver Michael Jackson celebrates a touchdown during the spring game.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

It was enough to seemingly distance Dart from fellow freshman Miller Moss, who also finished seven for 13 but never completed a pass for more than nine yards. Dart finished with 99 yards and the touchdown. Moss had 34 yards unofficially. Both threw interceptions.

“Him and Miller both looked poised,” Helton said of Dart. “I didn’t see deer in the headlights, big eyes. They looked like they just went and played.

“So glad that Jaxson and Miller are here getting this opportunity for experience, and it only helps them grow.”

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It won’t be easy for either to grow if USC’s quarterbacks don’t have time to throw. There was no greater concern for USC ahead of this spring than the state of its offensive line, and those fears didn’t abate Saturday.

Chris Steele is doing all he can this spring to ensure he increases his interception rate while dropping his reputation for penalties in USC’s secondary.

All four of USC’s scholarship quarterbacks found themselves under heavy pressure. Quarterback Mo Hasan, who has led the second team during spring, wound up leaving early with a knee injury, the severity of which was unknown.

It didn’t help that USC was using unusual combinations along the offensive line, as the teams split up the first- and second-team lines in a draft format, using groups that hadn’t played together all spring.

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Regardless of why, the results weren’t pretty. Asked how he would evaluate his offensive line’s play, Helton remained upbeat. He said he was “pleased” with the group’s overall performance during spring, adding that “you probably have some mistakes and things you have to correct.”

“Some young players got beat today by a Drake Jackson or a Tuli [Tuipulotu], but that happens to a lot of kids,” Helton said. “Every experience is a great experience, and you learn from your successes and your failures.”

USC forward Isaiah Mobley announced he will explore his NBA draft options after a breakout performance during the NCAA tournament.

Most of those successes Saturday came courtesy of USC’s defense. The secondary was stingy, reeling in four interceptions. The defensive line was dominant. Drake Jackson singlehandedly ended a drive, swatting a Slovis pass on first down, stopping a run at the line on second down, and then sacking Slovis on third to force a punt.

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The defensive line did lose a key piece this week. Brandon Pili had surgery on a torn Achilles tendon, Helton said, and almost assuredly will miss the season. In his place, young defensive tackles Jay Toia and Jamar Sekona continued to impress.

USC has six more spring practices. And after an uninspiring afternoon in front of a few thousand fans, it seems like the Trojans could use them.


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