The USC Trojans kick off the 2020 Pac-12 football season when they take on the Arizona State Sun Devils on November 7, 2020 at 9:00 am. The earliest kick in USC history puts them at center stage on Fox Sports’ Big Noon Kickoff and starts the shortened Pac-12 season with a bang.
We’re previewing the game in depth this week — taking a look at the starting quarterbacks for each team in our USC Football Preview series.
A preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, Slovis enters Year 2 in the USC program after a record-setting freshman season in which he took over for an injured (now transferred) J.T. Daniels. Slovis’ bio on USC’s website highlights the major accomplishments:
He was the 2019 Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year (USC’s fourth such honoree, joining Robert Woods in 2010, Marqise Lee in 2011 and Sam Darnold in 2016)
AP Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year and made All-Pac-12 honorable mention
2019 FWAA National Freshman of the Year semifinalist and made the FWAA Freshman All-American first team (the first ever USC true freshman quarterback to be a Freshman All-American first teamer)
Yours truly selected him as a Pro Football Focus Freshman All-American third team
As far as other information on Slovis, you need look no further than his impressive display of carving up defenses once he took over.
In 12 games (all but Washington) and starting 11 times (all but Fresno State and Washington), he completed 282-of-392 passes (71.9%) for 3,502 yards with 30 TDs and 9 interceptions.
He was third nationally in completion percentage (.719, second in Pac-12), seventh in passing efficiency (167.6, second in Pac-12), ninth in passing yards (291.8, second in Pac-12), 10th in completions (23.5, second in Pac-12), 14th in passing TDs (30, third in Pac-12), 18th in total offense (287.1, second in Pac-12) and 23rd in points responsible for (15.0, fourth in Pac-12).
His 71.9% completion percentage is a Pac-12 season record (minimum 350 attempts), breaking the 71.3% mark set by Stanford’s Andrew Luck in 2011, an NCAA freshman season record (minimum 200 attempts) and a Pac-12 freshman season record (minimum 100 attempts), breaking the 68.5% mark set by Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in 2012, as well as a USC season record, breaking Cody Kessler’s mark of 69.7% in 2014.
His 167.6 passing efficiency rating broke Cody Kessler’s USC season record of 167.1 set in 2014.
His completions (282), attempts (392) and yardage (3,502) are USC freshman season records, while his TDs (30) trail only Sam Darnold’s frosh mark of 31 in 2016 (Slovis has the most of any USC true freshman).
His 12.1% of uncatchable passes in 2019 was the lowest percentage in the nation. His 282 completions ranks him eighth on USC’s season passing list and 15th on the career ladder.
His 3,445 yards of total offense is seventh on USC’s season list and 22nd on the career chart, and is also a USC freshman season record. He had 4 games in 2019 with 400 passing yards (a season record by a Trojan and tied with Matt Barkley for the most ever in a USC career) and 4 TD throws, all in the last 6 contests.
He completed more than 67% of his passes in all but 1 game in 2019 and he was over 70% in 8 games (3 times over 80%).
His 400-yard passing games against Arizona State, California and UCLA is a USC record for consecutive 400-yard games and ties the USC record for consecutive 300-yard games.
His 66 passes completed against California and UCLA tied the USC record for most completions in 2 consecutive games.
Slovis garnered an incredible amount of individual awards including Pac-12 Freshman of the Week, Pac-12 Offensive PLayer of the Week and multiple national awards for his play on a weekly basis.
The reason I selected him to the National All-American list as a third-team member was not just because of the gaudy statistics or the terrific play week in and week out, it was more because of how he won, where he won and how impressive he was at an array of advanced data points.
When kept clean from pressure (something he was kept free from a lot in 2019), Slovis finished the year completing 235-302 for 2,831 yards and 26 touchdowns. He was dominant when kept clean and that is one of the more stable metrics from week to week as well as season to season, so it’s more likely than not that he continues that type of play in 2020.
On throws targeted 10 or more yards downfield, he was equally as dominant, and those are classified as NFL throws, for the most part. He completed 83-134 for 1,923 yards and 20 of his touchdowns. He’s got just about every throw in his arsenal, and has shown already at a young age, that he can take over games.
Daniels was also thrown into the fire as a first-year starter for a Pac-12 team, and by all accounts, he had a very successful season as well.
His bottom line saw him finish throwing 205-339 for 2,943 yards and 17 touchdowns against just two interceptions. He also chipped in with 515 total rushing yards and three more scores.
His honors, also listed on Arizona State’s page are almost as enormous as Slovis’:
Pac-12 Honorable Mention Freshman Offensive Player of the Year
FWAA Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Semifinalist
Became the first true freshman quarterback in program history to start the first game of the season.
Moved into 11th in ASU single-season history, finishing the 2019 season with 2,943 passing yards
Became just the third freshman in ASU history to win his first career start, joining John Walker (1984) and Dennis Sproul (1974) as the only other QB’s to win their first career starts as freshmen.
Only 12 times in ASU history has a freshman quarterback recorded a 300+ yard passing performance, of which Daniels now has five. His five 300+ yard performances are tied with Andrew Walter (2004) and Rudy Carpenter (2005) for the most in a single season in ASU history.
Daniels’ 8.86 yards per pass attempt are 13th in the FBS and third in the league.
Among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts, he was tied for the fewest interceptions nationally with just two – one of which coming on a half-ending Hail Mary attempt against Utah.
Hasn’t thrown an interception in 157 consecutive pass attempts, tied for the fourth-longest active streak in the nation heading into 2020. With two interceptions on 338 pass attempts, he set the ASU school record for fewest interceptions on 300 or more passes.
Eighth in the country with 15 pass completions over 40 yards this season and 12th in the FBS with 24 passes over 30 yards. His eight completions over 50 yards are 10th.
Eleven of his 17 touchdowns passes this season have gone for at least 25 yards (64.7 percent).
Has been exceptional on third downs this season, with his 744 passing yards on third downs good for 17th in the country (despite missing a game). His 160.13 passer rating on third down is 25th nationally.
Despite missing a game, he has accounted for 784 passing yards in the fourth quarter of games, good for 10th nationally while his 34 passing first downs are also 10th. He has recorded nine fourth quarter passing touchdowns (fourth nationally) to one interception. His 183.84 QB efficiency rating in the fourth quarter is 12th in the country.
Completed 11 passes of 25+ yards in the fourth quarter of games (tied for 2nd nationally) and his 19 pass completions over 15 yards in the frame is tied for 11th.
While under pressure this season, he has posted the sixth-highest NFL passer rating of any quarterback in the FBS at 97.2. For reference, the national average is 68.6.
Daniels’ poise under pressure is noted above, and one of the reasons he also has a bright future for the Sun Devils is his play when kept clean too. When his offensive line kept him clean from pressure, he finished 168-261 for 2,316 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one pick. He saw pretty terrific success when pressured, but those figures are extremely volatile from year to year and even week to week, so that’s not something I’d want to stand on.
For him on the ground, Daniels had 41 designed carries last year, resulting in just 47 yards as the majority of his yardage came on scrambles (468 of 515). Keeping him in the pocket and spying him with a linebacker proved crucial.
Similar to Slovis, Daniels also proved to be a viable downfield passer, most consistently to now San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk. He threw 52-106 for 1,530 yards and 11 touchdowns on those throws targeted at least 10 yards downfield.
By all accounts, this is the best quarterback matchup of the 2020 season in the Pac-12 and arguably one of the best quarterback matchups in any game across the country this season.
Slovis has the edge at just about every metric for quarterback play, except when the play breaks down and he’d be forced to scramble.
Fortunately for USC fans — that metric is highly unstable — and thus shouldn’t be something that’s too big of a concern.
Slovis has a chance to cement his Heisman Trophy worthiness in Week 1 of the Pac-12, and that’s something to look forward to.