Freshman Kedon Slovis passed for 377 yards and three touchdowns in an excellent debut start, and Southern California rolled to a 45-20 victory over No. 23 Stanford on Saturday night.
Slovis went 28 of 33 and set a school record for yards passing by a freshman in his first start as the Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12) rallied from an early 14-point deficit to beat the Cardinal (1-1, 1-1) for the third time in the California private schools’ last four meetings.
Amon-Ra St. Brown had eight catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns, while Tyler Vaughns added another TD grab in the fourth quarter for USC. Vavae Malepeai rushed for two touchdowns and Stephen Carr added a 25-yard TD run in a 492-yard performance by coordinator Graham Harrell’s Air Raid offense.
Slovis, the unheralded 18-year-old recruit from Arizona whose high school position coach was Kurt Warner, won his duel with fellow first-time starter Davis Mills, who went 22 of 36 for 237 yards for Stanford.
Cameron Scarlett rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown, but the Cardinal were outscored 42-3 in the final 43 minutes.
Despite being forced by injury to switch starting quarterback, the Trojans are off to a dynamic start under embattled coach Clay Helton coming out of the school’s first losing season since 2000.
Both quarterbacks got into the spotlight because of injuries to the schools’ chosen starters last week. USC’s J.T. Daniels is out for the season after injuring his knee while being tackled on a blitz, while Stanford’s K.J. Costello was ruled out for this week after a head hit.
Both passers got off to strong starts at the Coliseum, but only Slovis sustained it.
Mills completed his first four passes while the Cardinal opened with two long touchdown drives, capping the opener with his first career TD pass to Connor Wedington.
Stanford jumped to a 17-3 lead with a field goal after USC’s Velus Jones fumbled a kickoff return, but the Trojans soon got rolling.
Slovis largely handed off last week after he replaced Daniels, but Harrell said he wouldn’t simplify his game plan with Slovis as his starter. Harrell proved it immediately against Stanford, and Slovis met the challenge.
He got his first TD pass early in the second quarter, hitting St. Brown for a 39-yard score. After Carr made a 25-yard TD run, Slovis capped a quick 70-yard drive with a second TD pass to St. Brown 31 seconds before halftime, putting USC ahead for the first time.
Slovis completed 12 consecutive passes in the second and third quarters, while Mills missed a handful of open receivers at important moments.
The Trojans went up 31-20 when Malepeai punched it in after Slovis hit Michael Pittman Jr. with a pinpoint 30-yard pass. After USC’s Greg Johnson grabbed the game’s first interception, Slovis marched the Trojans on another resilient TD drive capped by Malepeai again.
Stanford: Mills probably will give way to Costello next week, but the Cardinal should be much more worried about a defense that struggled mightily with USC’s Air Raid offense. Stanford’s defense held USC to three points last year, but spent the entire rematch struggling to slow down any part of Harrell’s scheme. The Pac-12 is full of creative offenses, and the Cardinal have their work cut out for them.
USC: Slovis had a debut to remember, answering every question about the faith invested in him by Helton and Harrell when they named him their backup quarterback. Slovis will face stiff defensive challenges weekly, but the Trojans move forward knowing they’ve got a budding star behind center.
Stanford: At UCF on Saturday.
USC: At BYU on Saturday.
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