For anybody looking to take a deep dive into why JT Daniels was named the starting quarterback for the 2019 USC Trojans, coming out on top of the four-man race that also included redshirt junior Matt Fink, redshirt sophomore Jack Sears, and true freshman Kedon Slovis, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell saved you plenty of time.
Harrell has used one word over and over when he’s talked about what he looks for in a quarterback. In his post-practice press conference on Wednesday, he went to it again.
“He’s just the most consistent throughout,” Harrell said when asked why Daniels got the nod. “In the offense, you gotta be consistent. He was the most consistent, so he won the job.”
Harrell said consistent play from the quarterback is “what puts this offense in the best position to win.” Through 15 spring ball practices and 15 more of fall camp, it would be difficult for anybody to argue that there was a more consistent quarterback than Daniels. While he wasn’t the best quarterback every single day, he certainly was for most of them, and he seemingly never put together bad practices back to back.
“Obviously I was excited,” Daniels said of being named the starter. “I really appreciate coach trusting me with the team — the offense — but I really can’t say enough about how good of a competition it was, especially with Fink and Sears being the older guys. They helped me so much the last two years.”
Coming out of spring ball, Harrell said Daniels’ biggest weakness was wanting to overanalyze each play, which slowed the offense down. His improvement there was another reason he’ll lead the offense against Fresno State.
“That’s one of the things we’ve always talked about,” Harrell said of Daniels’ desire to overanalyze. “Play fast, play with good tempo, set the tempo for the offense, and don’t try to overanalyze things. Just see it and go. I think that’s probably where he’s improved the most.”
While Daniels being named the starter didn’t come as a surprise, the fact that Harrell and head coach Clay Helton elected to go with Slovis at No. 2, rather than Fink or Sears, who both have playing experience at this level, spoke volumes about what they see in the true freshman.
“Kedon’s a special talent,” Harrell said. “Talent-wise, he’s as good as I’ve ever seen. That obviously helps his cause, and then I think with Kedon, what he probably did the best was he came in and expected to play well, came out here and didn’t hesitate.”
Notably, Harrell said he wouldn’t think twice to go with Slovis in the event that the backup is needed, saying that naming him the backup obviously means they think he’s ready.
“I have confidence that if he gets thrown into a game, the moment won’t be too big and he’ll go in and execute,” Harrell said. “That’s what we expect out of him and that’s what he’s shown.”
Slovis has been remarkably even-keeled early in his USC career, never seeming to get too high or too low about anything that happens, despite grabbing plenty of attention for his play thus far.
“Nothing changes for me,” he said of being named the backup. “Just come out here and compete, and do everything I can do.”
Harrell expects big things out of this USC offense, and a significant reason for that is the time he and the offensive coaches have put in to getting the offensive roster to believe it for themselves.
“One of the things when we got here that we really wanted to emphasize was just building a culture on the offensive side of confidence and kind of getting the swagger back, and expecting to make plays,” Harrell said. “We just had to kind of establish an identity and establish a sense of confidence about themselves and a sense of swagger that when we step on the field, good things happen.”
Harrell said talent is not a problem for USC, as he’d be stumped to name many offenses with more total talent spread throughout. And now that the offense is seeing success with the system, that confidence is growing.