The first read isn’t always the best one in the Air Raid. It’s a pure progression system that demands the quarterback cycle through his options on time, with his drop and the receivers’ routes synced up.
If a team is playing loose coverage, as Stanford was this past Saturday, the QB can pick the opponent apart with quick passes, as Kedon Slovis did. It’s likely that the Cardinal didn’t expect Slovis to be so decisive and consistently on time like he was.
This is where the rookie and his predecessor differ most. JT Daniels is inclined to trying to decipher as much of the defense as possible, both pre- and post-snap. Slovis, meanwhile, stays ready to sling it.
“Playing that position I think has a lot more to do with the intangibles and the decision making than it does the talent,” USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said Tuesday. “… More than anything, (Slovis) did a nice job of taking care of the football. With the weapons you have around you, and that’s what I’ve talked to him a lot about since that game, is if you just do the easy things well, the spectacular things happen because you got great players around you.
"The key for him and the key for anyone in this offense is do the simple things well and don’t get us beat and you’re going to put us in position to win most games.”
To Harrell’s point, USC scored only 17 points in the first half against a weaker Fresno State team, and despite seven possessions, largely because of two turnovers in the red zone. Against Stanford, the Trojans scored 24 points on four of five possessions. The play everyone remembers is the 39-yard bomb to Amon-Ra St. Brown. Slovis’ precision and St. Brown’s concentration and toughness made it an early play-of-the-year candidate.
But it was all set up by Harrell’s play-calling and Slovis’ patience. With the Trojans trailing by two touchdowns, the true freshman didn’t try to get it all back immediately. He instead completed short, quick passes to Munir McClain and Devon Williams and handed the ball off three times on RPOs. It amounted to positive gains on all five plays and 36 yards. Then he took his shot downfield.
Interestingly, Harrell said St. Brown, who lined up in the slot (and almost in the backfield) was the first read.
“Throw it to Amon-Ra, that’s what that play was,” Harrell quipped.
The one blemish on an otherwise perfect delivery was Slovis putting more air on it than needed. Even there, Harrell explained that he’s coached the QBs to do that because it gives them more margin for error and give their elite receivers a chance to make a play on it.
“I think he has a pretty good feel for that,” Harrell said of Slovis. “On that one he did a pretty good job of holding the safety with his eyes and that’s why he was able to put as much air on it as he did, because he got the safety to move to other hash. And then he put a lot of air on the ball and let Amon-Ra do the rest.”
The rookie obviously didn’t make a lot of mistakes while completing 28 of 33 passes. Things were running so smoothly that none of the incompletions were even throwaways. But again, Harrell pointed to the throws he didn’t make. Slovis scrambled five times and was sacked once on a blitz, which saw him tuck the ball in tight and go down comfortably amid swarming pressure.
“There were a couple practices I could think of in camp where things started breaking down, he kind of scrambles and leaves one of them over the middle of the field and gets intercepted,” Harrell said.
There was one throw that probably looked forced. It came in the middle of the second quarter, near midfield and with Stanford still ahead, where Slovis ripped one to his right as a defender closed on Vaughns.
Depending on your angle, it could appear like Slovis narrowly avoided a pick-six. Alternate vantage points, however, show that Slovis made a hard and accurate throw to the outside shoulder, allowing Vaughns to not only shield the defensive back from deflecting the ball but turn upfield after he caught it. The pass traveled five yards past the line of scrimmage yet the play went for 29.
USC’s comeback, with its precocious passer leading the way, continued from there.
Coach Clay Helton addressed Lynn Swann’s resignation with his opening comments in Tuesday’s post-practice presser. He essentially thanked Swann (and Pat Haden) for their leadership during his tenure. He also said President Carol Folt notified him of Swann’s resignation shortly before it was announced Monday, and that he then spoke with Swann. He wouldn’t divulge on the latter conversation but said Folt offered him her full support.
“I received a call from Dr. Folt,” Helton said. “She didn’t have to do that, to take the time to reach out to me and say, Coach, love what you’re doing, the staff, the players, it was so fun to watch last Saturday. I just want to help you in any way so you and your team can be successful. And that meant a ton to me.”
A moment earlier, Helton, unsolicited, noted his directive moving forward as Folt searches for a new athletic director, and it effectually implied he’s still very much coaching for his job.
“What can we do as a coach and a football team? Win,” he said. “That’s our job, is to win …”