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Kedon Slovis and Jaxson Dart to battle for starting QB privileges vs. Oregon State

USC quarterback Jaxson Dart looks to pass against Washington State on Saturday.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis isn’t expected to miss any practice time after X-rays and an MRI exam on his injured neck came back negative Saturday. But when he returns to practice this week, his job as USC’s starting quarterback might be in serious jeopardy.

After freshman Jaxson Dart put together a dynamic debut in his place, USC interim coach Donte Williams declared Sunday that the two quarterbacks would battle this week to determine who leads the Trojans’ offense against Oregon State on Saturday night.

“Me personally, being the head coach, I approach everything as a battle,” Williams said. “I think part of why people don’t succeed and develop is because they get complacent. That’s not just at quarterback, that’s at every position. I want to make sure guys are never complacent.”

The first game of the post-Clay Helton era at USC presented a some big surprises. Here are five takeaways from the Trojans’ win over Washington State.

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The notion that Slovis’ place under center isn’t secure might have seemed preposterous just a few weeks ago. Slovis has held USC’s starting quarterback job since the second half of the opening game of the 2019 season, when JT Daniels suffered a season-ending knee injury. Since then, Slovis has thrown for 5,910 yards and 50 touchdowns and been named the Pac-12’s best quarterback in consecutive seasons. With a strong campaign in 2021, he seemed bound for the NFL draft next spring.

But the junior quarterback was put on notice Saturday, watching from the sideline in a black parka after a hit to the neck knocked him out on the first drive against Washington State. His freshman backup responded by dissecting the Cougars’ defense to the tune of 391 yards passing and four touchdown throws, the most ever for a Trojan quarterback in their debut.

The fact that Slovis’ job might be in danger is a testament to just how sensational Dart was in USC’s 45-14 road victory over Washington State.

Dart started slowly at first, throwing an interception on his first drive, then fumbling on a scramble a few drives later. But before long, he was rolling, finding wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. on a deep score just before halftime, then hitting Drake London twice for touchdowns in the third quarter.

Filling in for an injured Kedon Slovis, backup quarterback Jaxson Dart made an immediate impact, steering USC to a comeback win over Washington State.

Williams was so impressed after the bomb to Bryant that he planted a big smooch on Dart’s cheek that was caught on camera.

“He’s out here making plays like that, I’ll make sure I keep kissing him on the cheek,” Williams joked after the game.

Teammates raved about the freshman’s heart and swagger. Williams said he was especially impressed by Dart’s ability to scramble and keep plays alive.

“He definitely made some plays with his legs, just buying time,” Williams said. “And even when he got dinged up for a second, just for him to stay in that game and continue to battle, that shows what kind of warrior he is. He made some throws that in my point of view were great throws down the field.”

Freshman Jaxson Dart threw for four touchdowns in relief, lifting USC to a 45-14 win at Washington State in interim coach Donte Williams’ first game.

But is one performance enough to unseat an all-conference quarterback? That question is sure to linger over USC practice all week.

On Sunday, Williams said he believes both quarterbacks are “more than capable.” The staff had already drawn up a limited package for Dart ahead of Saturday’s game, with the hope to play him in third-and-short and red-zone situations “to give a wrinkle here and there,” Williams said.

Williams wouldn’t rule out the possibility that USC could play both quarterbacks going forward.

“You got a chance to see what Jaxson did yesterday, but at the same time you got a chance to see what Kedon has done for two-and-a-half years,” Williams said. “Last year, we went to the Pac-12 championship, and the year before that, he came in as a freshman and right away stepped into those shoes.”

Penn State coach James Franklin looked at home Saturday night during the Nittany Lions’ win over Auburn. Could USC lure the coach away from Happy Valley?

Slovis doesn’t boast quite the same dual-threat ability as Dart, who led USC in rushing Saturday with 32 yards in six carries. But Dart also turned the ball over three times against Washington State and has proved more erratic during practice this season.

Williams will weigh those pros and cons with offensive coordinator Graham Harrell this week. Whatever decision they make could reverberate for much longer.


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