What We Learned: Clay Helton 'would be shocked' if USC QB Kedon Slovis isn't great versus Utah

Adam Maya

Kedon Slovis will have better days than his last game. His head coach is adamant that Friday will be one of them.

“I would be shocked if he doesn’t have a great game, in this game,” Clay Helton said Wednesday. “I really think he’s ready. … He’s fired up to get back out on the field and prove something. That’s usually a good thing with a young quarterback that they’re excited to get back out here.”

Accordingly, Helton likes the way his true freshman practiced this week. He also says Slovis’ makeup lends itself to moving on quickly from a bad game.

“He’s not scared to pull the trigger,” Helton added. “He’s got no conscience and no fear, and that’s a special thing. I think that’s what makes the difference between the great quarterbacks.”

Being great against Utah will likely require something more than the previous two weeks did. The Utes are sure to generate greater pressure than either Stanford or BYU. They can also cover at a high level without needing to drop eight. A year ago, Utah stymied the Trojans’ passing attack with a Cover 2 defense that also managed to contain the run game and get to the QB.

USC’s offense has improved enough to seemingly force Utah to concede one of those initiatives. Given the strength of their front four, we could see the Utes again invite the Trojans to run first. But they’ll still need Slovis to produce in the neighborhood of his debut start against Stanford. Key to that, Helton said, is the young quarterback treating his reads as sacred.

Slovis admitted to locking onto certain receivers because he assumed his initial read wasn’t open.

“I was guessing on some of the reads, not being as disciplined as I should have been,” he said. “I can’t guess when I see guys in areas. As Coach Graham (Harrell)’s offense works, you just got to go through progressions and you’ll find the open guy.”

Obvious instances were the interceptions. Another one might surprise you -- the 30-yard touchdown to Michael Pittman.

“I didn’t execute that at the level I wanted to,” Slovis said. “A lot of plays that I left on the field.”

The cozy confines of the Coliseum will obviously provide a more favorable setting than the altitude and sea of blue in the stands at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Another game’s worth of film on Slovis could prove even more valuable. Harrell said one of the biggest lessons he learned as a young coordinator was to call plays his QB likes, not just ones that he himself likes. The Trojans now have two-and-a-half games of data showing not only what Slovis prefers but what he’s good at.

“Sometimes they tell you one thing and then you look at the film and it’s something different,” Harrell said. “Not only do you have to figure out what they think they like but what they execute well. I think he has a pretty good grasp for most of it.”

The proof might be in what USC does on offense after its first drive. Helton noted that Harrell scripts his first 10 plays or so with ones he’s most confident in. Interestingly, the Trojans have scored on their opening possession in both of Slovis’ starts (and the season opener). But they’ve managed just one first down on their second possession the past two weeks.

Against BYU, he threw his first of three interceptions.

“He’s going to be a special player,” Harrell remarked, as he has several times now. “He’s a youngster and sometimes you’re going to make some mistakes. No matter how old you are, you’re going to make some mistakes. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been playing, there’s going to be plays you wish you had back.”

USC can only win if he makes the most of the ones he gets Friday.

FOOTNOTES

Amon-Ra St. Brown, who’s been hampered this week by a sore foot, practiced Wednesday. Helton said they’ll “play it by ear” on whether he plays Friday. As a result, WRs Drake London and John Jackson III could see larger roles in the slot.

Defensive back Greg Johnson (concussion) practiced Wednesday and has been cleared to play.

Cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart (concussion) is “questionable at best” to play. Chris Steele will likely start in his place. Helton said Max Williams is available to spell the starters outside, as is Johnson.

Defensive end Christian Rector, who’s been battling an ankle injury, is medically cleared to play. Helton called him a “game-time decision” and said he would meet with him Thursday to ensure that he has the requisite confidence to test his ankle.

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