By now, the news has probably sunk in. JT Daniels is missing the remainder of the season, and likely most of spring camp, with a torn ACL.
A 9-12 month timeline means that barring some miraculous recovery JT Daniels will miss all of spring football in 2020— Adam Grosbard (@AdamGrosbard) September 2, 2019
That leaves Kedon Slovis as the Trojans’ new starting quarterback. When Slovis first broke onto the scene, onlookers were pleasantly surprised. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell raved about Slovis for his arm, and “just do[ing] things right.” But Graham Harrell is a coach who compliments everybody. He’s said great things about Matt Fink and Jack Sears, who ended up on the back of the depth chart. A cynic may even accuse Harrell of being positive to keep frustrated USC quarterbacks from transferring. Certainly if Harrell had declared Sears the third string quarterback in spring, Sears would have transferred then.
But after fall camp, Harrell put his money where his mouth is. It was the biggest shocker of USC’s first depth chart. Unheralded and unknown Kedon Slovis, who was barely recruited in high school, jumped Matt Fink and Jack Sears to become USC’s second string quarterback. True freshmen coming out and winning jobs from incumbents has become more common in college football. Trevor Lawrence supplanted Jelly Bryant. Jake Fromm supplanted Jacob Eason.
But it’s something entirely different when the player in question was unknown among casual fans coming out of high school. To jump a redshirt sophomore and a redshirt junior to be in the starting position today is rare. Here’s how he got there.
Kedon Slovis arrived on campus for spring camp. Standing next to the rest of the quarterbacks, he’s noticeably smaller and skinnier. Standing next to Daniels, Sears, and Fink, I wouldn’t believe you if you told me he was 6’ 2”. In fact, his wiry frame makes him a close physical comparison to former UCLA quarterback, Josh Rosen. USC fans may have mixed feelings about that comparison, and I don’t blame them.
But both Slovis and Rosen are pure pocket passers. They stand tall in the pocket with no inclination to pull the ball down and run. Though Slovis is the worst Trojan athlete at quarterback, he is perhaps the best at navigating the space inside the pocket. He sidesteps pressure and made a nice screen pass with a defender right in his face against Fresno State. With those pocket navigation skills, Slovis, like Rosen, tends to look downfield. He is efficient, but likes to take his deep shots. And like Rosen, Slovis’ best trait as a quarterback may be how the ball leaves his hand. At least in physical stature and what they try to do as quarterbacks, Slovis and Rosen is a close comp.
Now the question is whether Slovis can produce on Rosen’s level. In order to do so, Slovis must show Harrell that he can succeed without the training wheels. And Harrell must show that same level of trust in Slovis.
Luckily, Slovis’ playing style fits in well with Harrell’s scheme. Harrell’s air raid system emphasizes getting the ball into the hands of playmakers, rarely relying on a quarterback’s legs. Harrell’s quarterback at North Texas, Mason Fine, rushed for less than 20 yards in each of the past two seasons (on the college level, quarterback rushing yardage also takes negative sack yardage into consideration). This vibes with Slovis’ pass first mentality, and was one of the reasons that Slovis beat out run-happy Jack Sears. That Slovis prefers to use his arm over his legs should also benefit Michael Pittman Jr., Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and co. throughout the season. With such a stacked receiving core hungry for targets, this can only be good for the USC offense.
Slovis does possess some skills that JT Daniels seems to lack. Though he doesn’t have Daniels’ experience on the college level, his timing and rhythm throwing is better than Daniels. Slovis seems to have the ability to anticipate where a receiver will be, and throw to that spot before the receiver gets there. He’s better with his eye discipline than Daniels. Just watch how Daniels eyes Pittman Jr. all the way on this play.
UGLY interception thrown by JT Daniels pic.twitter.com/ih9fwcuZTl— #FlashSZN (@ftbeard_17) September 1, 2019
Linebacker Justin Rice gets the interception on this play, and its because he can read Daniels’ eyes. Daniels is looking down Pittman all the way, throwing into double coverage rather than moving on to his next read. In sping camp, Slovis made the right decisions about where to place the ball and what read to make.
After being named as a back up initially, Slovis will have to adjust and develop chemistry with some of the starting receivers. He may go through the growing pains that young quarterbacks do. But in the end, all Slovis has to do to win games is to perform on the field like he does at practice.