USC’s Kedon Slovis didn’t just pad stats against bad teams

The myth that Kedon Slovis’ freshman season was padded by the Air Raid or came only with performances against bad defense is just that, a myth.

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If you’re a USC football fan, you’ve probably seen or heard someone comment about Kedon Slovis’ spectacular freshman numbers in 2019.

The quarterback put up 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns while posting a passer rating of 167.65, which ranked seventh nationally. He set NCAA and Pac-12 freshman records, as well as some USC marks.

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Those are objectively exceptional numbers, but some are quick to dismiss them for a couple of reasons.

The first is that Slovis was a product of the Air Raid. Any quarterback playing in Graham Harrell’s pass-heavy scheme would have similarly padded stats, they say.

Second is the claim that Slovis only played well against bad defenses, skewing his numbers to look better than they actually were against stronger competition.

Both claims simply don’t hold up.

Certainly, Slovis benefited from being in an Air Raid offense, but fitting a scheme shouldn’t take praise away from the skill with which he operated.

Nor was he simply completing easy passes underneath to bulk up his stats. Pro Football Focus found that Slovis was the most accurate passer in the country at passes 10 yards or more. When throwing downfield, 62 percent of Slovis’ attempts were catchable. That’s 20 percent higher than the FBS average.

As for the idea that Slovis only beat up on weak opposition, the numbers say otherwise.

Slovis played in 11 games in 2019 (excluding the Utah game, which he was knocked out of after two passes, and the Washington game, which he missed with a concussion). The average rank of defenses he faced was 61st in SP+. His passer rating in those games averaged out to 166.07.

Against the bottom six defenses he faced—from BYU at 57th through Arizona at 114th, with Stanford, UCLA, Fresno State, and Colorado in between—Slovis posted a passer rating of 165.57.

Against the best five defenses on the slate—No. 6 Iowa, No. 8 Oregon, No. 22 Notre Dame, No. 41 ASU, and No. 46 Cal—his passer rating was 166.62.

Even when you account for only the Top 25 defenses Slovis faced, the numbers look fine for the freshman quarterback. He took on three between Iowa, Oregon, and Notre Dame, posting an average passer rating of 139.72.

That dip is to be expected. Against four Top 25 defenses in 2019, Oregon’s Justin Herbert had his passer rating dip to 146.25, for instance.

Moreover, Slovis’ best performance was in the final game, after he’d had the better part of a season to learn the ropes. Against Iowa, the best defense he played all year, he put up 260 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-30 passes while only playing two quarters before being injured.

Slovis was a first-year freshman making his debut last year. Even if he hadn’t been as good as he was in 2019, there would be rightful excitement over his prospects going forward.

Putting just how good he was into context should lift that excitement even more, even if there remain those who attempt to diminish it.

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