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USC quarterback Kedon Slovis is sharp at practice while Jaxson Dart is sidelined

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis throws a pass during warm ups.
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis throws a pass during warm ups before a game against Washington State on Saturday in Pullman, Wash.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Three days removed from watching a freshman quarterback rally USC to a resounding victory at Washington State, Graham Harrell appeared to still be processing what changed for his offense beyond the obvious — a new guy was leading it.

“More than anything they just loosened up,” Harrell, USC’s third-year offensive coordinator, said after Tuesday’s practice. “To be honest with you they played a little tight, and I think there’s been some tightness, seems like for a year and half now. We just played [the way] we expect to play. Be loose, have fun and go out there and light it up.”

During that year and a half, Kedon Slovis has been the Trojans’ starting quarterback, and by most measures he’s been quite good at it.

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But suddenly, thanks to Jaxson Dart’s electric showing on a rainy day in the Palouse — and USC interim coach Donte Williams saying it would lead to a “quarterback battle” — Slovis’ hold over the starting job is no longer guaranteed. Just like that?

Yep, just like that.

Neither Williams nor Harrell downplayed the notion of a competition brewing between Slovis and Dart, but Dart missing Tuesday’s practice while nursing a knee injury that Williams has labeled “day to day” certainly put a damper on it.

USC will be looking for the second win of the Donte Williams era when the Trojans (2-1) return to the Coliseum to play Oregon State (2-1) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. PDT.

Dart was not at Howard Jones Field while Slovis was able to give it a go after X-rays came back negative on the neck injury that put this crazy series of events into motion Saturday. Slovis said he felt good after practice.

“Shoot, he was ripping the ball around,” Williams said. “All I can go by is what he did today on the practice field, and what I saw today, he looked pretty good.”

Williams said Dart is “dealing with a couple things” and that “I hope he’s here tomorrow.”

“If he’s not able to practice the whole week,” Williams said, “the decision’s made.”

Information was minimal Tuesday as the Trojans prepared to face Oregon State on Saturday night at the Coliseum. And, as Slovis, Harrell and Williams fielded questions about the competition, any “loosened” vibes from Saturday had disappeared.

At the start of the season, the idea that Clay Helton would not be the team’s coach and that the starting quarterback position would be up for grabs by the official start of fall would have been a wild proposition.

“I’m not really focused so much on that,” Slovis said of the competition with Dart. “I’m excited for him to get a great game, and honestly it’s what we expect. He’s a great player, great quarterback. He showed that all fall camp, and I’m excited for him and what he’s done for our team.”

USC quarterback Jaxson Dart throws a pass while pressured by Washington State linebacker Jahad Woods.
USC quarterback Jaxson Dart throws a pass while pressured by Washington State linebacker Jahad Woods during the first half on Saturday in Pullman, Wash.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Harrell has spent the last two years grooming Slovis for a big junior season that could propel him toward the NFL draft. The last week presented an unexpected turn of events for everyone including Harrell, the former star quarterback at Texas Tech.

Harrell was asked if Dart’s performance in Slovis’ stead would have led him to stage a “quarterback battle” without Williams saying there would be one.

“We just got to play whoever gives us the best chance to be successful,” Harrell said, “and that’s always the goal, no matter the position or the situation. I think [Kedon] understands that too. That’s the beautiful thing about sports and football specifically is that you’re always competing. I don’t think that’s ever been a question.”

Harrell saw a lot to improve on from Dart in the early going against Washington State. But, with USC trailing 14-0 in the final minute of the first half and facing fourth and nine, Dart found Gary Bryant Jr. for a 38-yard touchdown pass and found his groove for good.

“We’re down 14-0 and there’s been a lot of things go bad and he never blinked,” Harrell said. “That’s pretty impressive, especially for a true freshman. To go into a game not knowing how much you’re going to play, go in there and things not go great early and it not bother you at all, that says a lot about him as a competitor, as a player, as a person.”

Jaxson Dart and Kedon Slovis are far from the first USC quarterbacks to battle for the starting job. Here’s a look at five memorable Trojans QB battles.

Until Dart can return to the practice field and build on his momentum, the Trojans will remain Slovis’ team.

Williams said he wants Slovis to continue to be himself.

“The same quarterback I’ve known since I’ve been here,” Williams said. “One that’s really competitive and just going to go out here and do what he needs to do to win.”


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