Kedon Slovis off to an unprecedented first year for a USC quarterback

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

Kedon Slovis has played just five whole games, but he’s already making a solid case for being the most advanced USC quarterback at this point in his career.

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True freshman USC quarterback Kedon Slovis is more efficient than true freshman Carson Palmer, a better decision-maker than true freshman Matt Barkley and just flat out more productive than true freshman JT Daniels.

There’s an argument Slovis, a mindful pocket navigator and capable gunslinger rolled into one, has the highest ceiling of any rookie Trojan quarterback, given his age. He’s entrenched himself in a conversation with 2003 Matt Leinart and 2016 Sam Darnold.

The numbers bear it out, particularly in areas where USC quarterbacks this decade have been known to struggle, like late in games.

Slovis has thrown five fourth quarter touchdowns on just 45 attempts across five games. That’s as many as first-year starters 2009 Matt Barkley, 2013 Cody Kessler and 2018 JT Daniels did on 208 fourth quarter attempts combined, across three whole seasons.

His 198.3 fourth quarter passer rating is fourth among Power 5 quarterbacks, trailing only Heisman Trophy candidates Joe Burrow (226.2) and Jalen Hurts (224.7), and undefeated Minnesota signal caller Tanner Morgan (204.2).

That’s elite company in one of the most pivotal situations in football. It’s not where you’d expect to see a three-star recruit in his first season.

While Darnold’s first five full games are a tick ahead of Slovis —in 2016, he had a 15-to-2 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio with a 178.3 passer rating at this point— he was doing so in his second year in the program. Slovis sports a 13-to-4 ratio with a 166.8 rating in his first-ever season on campus. And those numbers include a disastrous three-interception game at BYU, something Darnold saved for the New York Jets.

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Using the averages of Slovis’s full games to project the remainder of the regular season plus a bowl game, he’s on pace to throw for 3,176 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions, with a season-ending passer rating of 165.5.

That hypothetical season would not only shatter USC’s true freshman records, but be nearly identical to Darnold’s 2016. It’d top Cody Kessler’s record for single season completion percentage and come two points shy of Mark Sanchez’s 167.1 mark for quarterback rating.

Again, Slovis is a true freshman. Or perhaps more fittingly, he’s a three-star true freshman saddled with an offensive line reliable as untoasted Wonder Bread.

He shouldn’t be this good so fast, but he’s done nothing but validate the decision by the law firm of Helton, Harrell & Baker to put him second on the preseason depth chart behind the now-injured JT Daniels. Especially in terms of his personal development, something that supersedes statistics.

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images /

For Clay Helton, Slovis is doing everything you’d want to see from your starting quarterback.

“What I’ve really appreciated is watching him grow game-by-game, and actually learn game-by-game, Helton said. “He’s done a really really good job of extending plays and not forcing balls. A lot times, he’s held onto the ball a little bit longer to buy some time and let a receiver work to get open, and then be able to get it to him.

“And then there’s times when he’s so decisive,” Helton continued. “I think about the third down throw on our sideline to Michael Pittman on the last drive [at Colorado], where he’s getting hit. If he waits at all, that’s not going to be a completion and may be a drive-stopper.”

It’s an instinctive brand of play both the head coach and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell see as being special. The quarterback himself referred to the fruits of his efforts, an 89-yard game-winning drive in Boulder, as a sort redemption for the overtime loss to BYU, underlining his ability to pick up the pieces.

The caveat remains it’s all a small sample size. Slovis’s in-game consistency has to improve if he wants to lead the Trojans to the Rose Bowl like Darnold did three years ago. Cleaner first halves at BYU and Notre Dame win those games and have USC in the playoff discussion.

Slovis is also in a situation built to foster his success. He has one of the most talented receiving corps in school history at his disposal, and is running an offense with Air Raid concepts designed to scheme open receivers and create passing lanes.

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JT Daniels might’ve been able to have similar success as a true freshman last season, had he been given Graham Harrell’s offensive identity, rather than the live-on-a-prayer gumbo with visible fingerprints of Tee Martin, Clay Helton, Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin. But alas, the tit for tat comparison can’t be made. Slovis is in a true freshman category all by himself.

There’s still a long way to go, and much like Darnold, the season-defining games are still up ahead on the docket. No. 7 Oregon comes calling to the Coliseum this Saturday.

But in yet another season of frustrating ups and downs for the USC football program, Slovis is undoubtedly the bright light towards the future.