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Kedon Slovis uneven in trying to keep his claim as USC’s starting QB

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis runs off the field after a touchdown against Oregon State on Saturday.
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis runs off the field after a touchdown against Oregon State on Saturday. Slovis had an uneven performance in the loss.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Last week already started on a strange note for Kedon Slovis. Then, it ended on a sour one Saturday.

What began with a strained neck in Pullman, Wash., and an unexpected — albeit short-lived — competition at quarterback ended with Slovis, USC’s two-time All-Pac-12 incumbent, throwing his third interception of a miserable defeat, adding insult to a week defined, in some part, by injury.

Quarterback play was hardly the most pressing problem that presented itself during USC’s 45-27 loss to Oregon State.

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But Slovis, just days after coaches declared a looming quarterback competition, didn’t exactly declare himself the answer at the position either.

With USC presumably looking for a big-name coach, the assumption was that Donte Williams had to perform a miracle to remove the interim label from his job description.

While electric freshman Jaxson Dart walked the sideline in a knee brace, Slovis threw for 351 yards and a touchdown, conjuring up nine pass plays of 15 yards or more to keep USC alive. But the offense never quite recaptured the magic it found a week earlier with Dart under center. As the deficit grew, Slovis gave into some of his worst tendencies.

He threw three interceptions in total, two in the fourth quarter, marking the fourth time in 21 starts that Slovis has had three passes picked off.

“In the second half, we started pressing. [Slovis] started seeing us get down,” said USC interim coach Donte Williams. “I think he started making some errant throws that he wished he could have back. And he started rushing through a couple things as far as his progressions.”

Outside of that final interception, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell didn’t quibble much with Slovis’ performance, noting the junior quarterback “was really spinning the football well and throwing it accurately.”

USC quarterbacks Kedon Slovis (9), Miller Moss (7) and Jaxson Dart (2) walk onto the field.
USC quarterbacks Kedon Slovis (9), Miller Moss (7) and Jaxson Dart (2) walk onto the field at the Coliseum before the Trojans’ loss to Oregon State.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Still, it wasn’t the statement performance some might hve hoped to see out of Slovis after freshman Jaxson Dart put together an electric debut in relief last week. Williams wasted no time in the moments after that game in declaring a quarterback competition.

That competition never got off the ground. Dart had surgery on his right knee two days later, and Slovis stepped back into the job, albeit under considerably more uncomfortable pretenses.

Dart isn’t expected to be ready this week either. Williams continued to classify the freshman as “week-to-week” and said he had “no idea” about a timeline for his return.

While he’s sidelined, Slovis will have more time to stake his claim as USC’s starter for the rest of the season. That case got off to an uneven start against Oregon State. Asked whether he considered replacing Slovis with freshman Miller Moss late against Oregon State, Williams took to his veteran quarterback’s defense.

“I mean, [Slovis] still did some great things in the first half,” Williams said. “And some of the things he did in the second half, it wasn’t just Kedon struggling, we were struggling as a team.

N.C. State’s upset of No. 9 Clemson and Baylor’s win over No. 14 Iowa State would have deeper meaning if the College Football Playoff pool were expanded to `12 teams.

“So whether that was the O-line, the receivers, the tight ends, Kedon, play calling, we all struggled, me coaching. It wasn’t just Kedon by himself. He’s not a one-man show. There’s no ‘I’ or ‘me’, it’s an ‘us’ and a ‘we’. So he wasn’t the only one struggling, we struggled together.”

That was abundantly clear Saturday. Drives stalled suddenly. Multiple receivers dropped passes. The run game dried up after a strong start, as USC’s two backs scrounged just 12 yards in 12 carries in the second half.

No one did Slovis any favors. But as the junior quarterback holds tenuously to his starting job, he’ll have to transcend those issues, if USC has any hope of turning its season around.

After an encouraging start, USC gave up five consecutive touchdowns in a 45-27 loss to Oregon State that stymied the Trojans’ hopes of a midseason rebound.

Slovis, at least, is staying patient.

“This is not going to [be] a turnaround overnight,” Slovis said. “We’re trying to build something here. Coach Donte’s done a great job of starting to hold guys accountable and changing the culture and building the culture. You’re not going to see it change in one week. We’ve got a lot of work to do and I think the main thing, message, we have is you know we got to stay together and stay up.”


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