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One turned into two. Two turned into three, and as Kedon Slovis committed four turnovers in 19 disastrous minutes of game time against No. 7 Oregon on Saturday, USC fell from its perch at the top of the Pac-12 South.
After the freshman quarterback earned praise from his coaches in recent weeks for his improved ball security, his three interceptions and one lost fumble led to 28 points for Oregon in the Ducks’ 56-24 win at the Coliseum. Slovis completed 33 of 57 passes for 264 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions as the Trojans suffered their first home loss of the year.
USC coach Clay Helton lamented the turnovers as the main culprit in the blowout loss — along with the team’s eight penalties for 92 yards — but defended his young quarterback after the game.
“He’s a special player,” Helton said. “We have special quarterbacks here and part of playing quarterback is getting to learn from each rep and each experience. Some are good and some are bad, but this guy’s going to be playing football for a long time. A long time. He’s very talented and tonight was just another learning lesson that quarterbacks learned from.”
USC (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12) ceded control of the offense to its young signal-caller by running the ball just 25 times. Slovis, who eclipsed Todd Marinovich’s 30-year-old USC record of 55 passes in single game, delivered early. On third-and-goal from the Oregon five-yard line, the former backup wowed the crowd of 63,011 on the opening drive as he danced around and dodged would-be tacklers before finding freshman receiver Drake London in the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown.
The quarterback aggressively punched the air in celebration. His offensive linemen lifted him in the air.
He crashed to earth quickly.
After building a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, Slovis turned the ball over on three straight drives in the second quarter. He sandwiched a fumble at the Oregon five-yard line between two interceptions.
The red zone fumble was the turning point of the game, Helton said, as Oregon (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12) scored on the short field. Two plays into USC’s next offensive possession, Oregon safety Brady Breeze returned a Slovis interception for a 32-yard pick-six. It was Oregon’s second touchdown in 20 seconds.
“I don’t think it necessarily affected my decision-making process throughout the game, or my reads,” Slovis said of the rash of turnovers. “You can’t commit turnovers like that, but sometimes it happens and just got to move on and play the next play.”
Slovis, who threw another interception in the third quarter, had just one interception in his previous four games. The one miscue came last week during the team’s 35-31 win at Colorado. He told reporters that after the interception, he was determined not to let the mistake snowball into several. He responded by leading the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
On Saturday, Slovis spent time in the fourth quarter between drives speaking to injured starter JT Daniels as Oregon piled up eight straight touchdown drives. Daniels, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener, leaned on one crutch on the sideline while appearing to offer coaching tips to Slovis, pointing toward the field.
Oregon, which extended its winning streak to eight games, ranked third in the county in turnover margin entering the game at plus-11. USC is now minus-9 on the year.