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As Kedon Slovis kneeled along the sideline in obvious pain, clutching his right elbow, the worst possible outcome in one of its worst bowl performances unfolded in front of USC.
Slovis was in and out of the medical tent in Friday’s 49-24 Holiday Bowl defeat to Iowa, after first slamming his head against the turf in the second quarter. But as the Trojans kept it close early in the third quarter, it was Slovis’ elbow injury that proved to be a turning point.
The standout freshman never returned, as Matt Fink took his place.
USC coach Clay Helton had no update on Slovis’ status after the game. Slovis was injured when he was hit on the arm by Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa on a pass attempt.
The quarterback will have an MRI in the coming days, but with the offseason ahead, it may be a while before an update is provided.
“Possible sprain, hopefully,” Helton said. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”
When Slovis does return, he’ll be without his top target from this season, Michael Pittman Jr. The senior captain finished his USC career at the Holiday Bowl on Friday, but it was hardly the exit he’d been hoping for.
Pittman Jr. finished with six catches for 53 yards. With USC still within striking distance, after Slovis’ injury, the wideout uncharacteristically lost a fumble.
Asked if he had any thoughts on his final game as a Trojan, Pittman responded, “No. Not really.”
Slovis, upon his return, should have no shortage of new top targets to choose from.
On Friday night, he seemed to favor Amon-ra St. Brown, who surpassed 1,000 yards receiving for the first time, on Friday. St. Brown finished with nine catches for 163 yards.
Helton could feel the tides turning. So at halftime, he told his team to expect something it hadn’t done all season.
And when the Trojans scored a quick touchdown to open that half, Helton figured he had nothing to lose in calling a surprise onside kick. Not with how effectively Iowa was holding on to the ball.
“We haven’t had four possessions in a half in a long time,” Helton said of USC’s first-half offense. “That’s one of the reasons I chose to do the surprise onside in the second half, knowing that we were two scores down.”
The kick worked — one of the few things that did work on Friday. But what came after went horribly wrong.
Slovis injured his elbow, Fink came in, and a USC drive that started at midfield stalled after four plays.
After transferring to USC this fall and winning the starting right tackle job out of camp, Drew Richmond’s final season was cut short, as a foot sprain suffered in practice kept him out.
Richmond was confident earlier in the week that he’d suit up, finishing out his lone season at USC on a high note. But Helton ruled out Richmond and shifted usual starting guard Jalen McKenzie into his tackle spot. Reserve lineman Liam Jimmons, who dislocated his elbow earlier in the season, played in McKenzie’s place at right guard.
Cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart suffered a knee injury late in the fourth that had him writhing in pain. Helton said afterward that they “hope it’s not severe.” … Freshman running back Kenan Christon suffered a head injury in the fourth and was held out. … Wideout Tyler Vaughns missed the first quarter with an undisclosed issue. He played in the second.