Quarterback Kedon Slovis
True Freshman Kedon Slovis has been put under the microscope this past week as the Trojan fanbase look to him to step up and lead the offense. Attempting to fill the shoes of incumbent starter J.T. Daniels — who was expected to have a breakout year this season — the former 3-star recruit Slovis steps into his first start in a huge rivalry game under immense pressure. A major factor for a Trojan victory will be whether Slovis can handle that pressure and make plays in key moments. We saw flashes of that ability against Fresno St. last week with Slovis delivering a beautiful teardrop completion to Tyler Vaughns for 41 yards that set up Vavae Malepaei’s decisive TD run. On the other hand, the very next drive Slovis launched an interception into double coverage on 1st and 10 which could only be chalked up as a freshman blunder. If the Trojans hope to secure a victory against Stanford on Saturday, Slovis will need to do much more of the former than the latter. He ended up going 6 for 8 for 57 yards and one interception. Many Trojan fans lamented the loss of Jack Sears to the transfer portal in light of the J.T. Daniels injury, however it is important to note that Slovis was named the backup over Sears before his transfer request. This endorsement by the coaching staff as well as mentorship from Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner in high school speak to Slovis’ qualifications and ability to rise to the occasion.
Defensive end Christian Rector
Senior Christian Rector was one of the more heralded USC defenders coming into the season. Named to the preseason Ted Hendricks award list after a strong junior season in which he put up 48 total tackles with 9 for loss (including 4.5 sacks), big things were expected of him out of the gate. For the most part he delivered against Fresno St. with 4 total tackles and a sack in his inaugural senior game. While there were several opportunities to bring down Fresno St. quarterback Jorge Reyna that were missed, his performance was largely encouraging. With Walker Little out for the game and true freshman Walter Rouse stepping in to fill his shoes, Rector should feast on the matchup against the inexperienced tackle. Moreover, with Stanford’s starting left guard also out of the game, the entire left side of the line should be in disarray. This provides a perfect chance for Rector to wreak havoc throughout the game and make life miserable for Stanford’s green quarterback. Stud freshman Drake Jackson also bears mention as he should pair with Rector nicely on the defensive line to exploit a potential weakness for the Cardinal.
Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV
Palaie Gaoteote IV is one of the most talented players on the Trojan roster and his impact is vital to the defense as a whole. A 5-star player out of high school who was ranked the number 15 player in his entire class, Gaoteote made a significant impact as a true freshman for the Trojans last year with 38 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and 2 sacks at the inside linebacker position. Against Fresno State the performance of the linebacker unit was lackluster as a whole. This included Gaoteote — while he had 3 total tackles he did not flash or make a standout impact on any play in particular, which is an indictment for a player of his caliber. The run game could play a deciding factor in the game, and Gaoteote needs to leave his stamp on the game and help shut down the Cardinal ground attack. Cameron Scarlett is a big back that Stanford leaned on heavily against Northwestern, leading their rushing attack with 97 yards on 22 carries. With the inexperienced Mills at QB for the Cardinal, Scarlett’s workload stands to be just as if not more heavy. Gaoteote will be a key player in limiting Scarlett’s effectiveness, and in doing so could turn the tide in favor of the Trojans.