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USC vs. Oregon State: Kedon Slovis returns to lead Trojans pushing for a sharp game

Donte Williams shakes hands with USC players after a win
USC interim coach Donte Williams celebrates with his players after their 45-14 win over Washington State on Sept. 18 in Pullman, Wash.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)
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Oregon State (2-1) at USC (2-1)

7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Coliseum

TV: FS1

Betting line: USC by 11 points

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Donte Williams dazzled in his head coaching debut as USC blew out Washington State on the road, but an encore victory will be harder to secure, even at home.

“Last week, sometimes, things are easy because it’s new, it’s fresh,” Williams said this week. “Guys are excited. So when it’s the second time through sometimes, it becomes a grind a little bit.”

Keeping the team engaged as the dust settles from the coaching change is Williams’ main task against Oregon State , with the Trojans favored by 11. Times staff writer Thuc Nhi Nguyen breaks down top storylines entering the matchup:

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And still QB1

USC's Kedon Slovis looks to pass against Washington State.
Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis looks to pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State on Sept. 18.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Kedon Slovis won the first round of USC’s new quarterback battle by default as Jaxson Dart is sidelined after surgery on a torn meniscus. Slovis, a three-year starter, didn’t appear to be bothered in practice by the neck injury that knocked him out of the game at Washington State and didn’t show signs of backing down after his job status was in question.

“A lot of guys in this locker room, including myself, believe in him,” Williams said of Slovis’ performance in practice this week. “I saw somebody who’s coming back that’s just resumed their role where they normally are, which is the starting quarterback.”

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Mellow yellow

USC cornerbacks Isaac Taylor-Stuart, left, and Chris Steele stand on the field during a game against Washington State
USC cornerbacks Isaac Taylor-Stuart, left, and Chris Steele stand on the field during the Trojans’ game against Washington State on Sept. 18 in Pullman, Wash.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

After USC’s five penalties against Washington State were five too many for Williams, the coach pledged to crack down on flags by bringing referees to practice Tuesday and Wednesday, but none took the field because of a referee shortage.

The responsibility fell to Williams, who said it “hurt my heart” to call pass interference calls on the defensive backs he used to coach.

Cornerback Chris Steele has been a regular recipient of flags this season, including two personal fouls that resulted in his temporary removal from the field. The junior recognized that on a team where everyone is being held accountable for every small action, the unnecessary roughness calls are his most pressing area for improvement.

“Playing a little bit more loose and not playing with so much energy and not letting my energy get the best of me,” Steele said, “just being a smarter player.”

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Beware of explosives

Oregon State's Chance Nolan throws the football.
Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan throws to Luke Musgrave during a game against Idaho on Sept. 18 in Corvallis.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

Oregon State, which has scored more than 40 points in consecutive wins, leads the Pac-12 with 453 yards of offense per game. The rushing attack is third in the conference, led by B.J. Taylor’s 88 yards per game. Quarterback Chance Nolan averages 24 rushing yards and 211.3 passing yards, but impressed USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando most when the quarterback showed he was willing to tackle a defender after an Oregon State (2-1) turnover this season.

“Those are the guys that are dangerous,” Orlando said. “The guys that have the arm, that can run but also have the mentality too.”

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