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Harrell on Kedon Slovis, Alijah Vera-Tucker and the defensive looks USC is getting

USC offensive coordinator spoke with the media on Wednesday morning and touched on topics ranging from the way Utah defended the Trojans this season compared to last season, to the way quarterback Kedon Slovis has played through three games. Harrell spoke glowingly about left tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker and diagnosed what’s going on with the USC running game as well.

Here’s the full transcript of what Harrell had to say on Wednesday.

Harrell on the difference in how Utah defended USC this year compared to last year:

“Last year, and I don’t know if it was because of the success we had against the man coverage they played on us last year or if it was because they have a really young defense, but we went in expecting them to play a decent amount of man just because that’s kind of in their DNA and besides short-yardage situations, I don’t know if we got a single snap of it. A lot more two safeties than we expected, and zone coverage. But again, having no tape we didn’t know what to expect so we kind of expected they’d do what they do. In the past they’ve shown that man coverage is knid of who they are and they didn’t play us in hardly any man coverage. It was a lot different than it was the previous year, a little bit different than what we expected. But I thought our guys did a decent job adjusting.”

Harrell on whether he’s seeing similarities in how defenses are approaching USC:

“Utah, I don’t think they’re just dialing up a new defense that they’ve never done, but I do think that we do see a lot of softer coverage it seems and dropping a lot of people into coverage has kind of been something a lot of people have tried against us. We don’t see a ton of man, which surprised me from Utah. A lot of teams, that’s just not who they are. Utah in the past that’s who they’ve been. But losing nine starters I think from last year’s defense and a lot of those guys to the NFL – I don’t know if that had more to do with us or more to do with them having as many young guys and as many inexperienced guys as they had on that defense.”

Harrell on Kedon Slovis’ play this season:

“I think where Kedon is really doing a good job and where we’ve made him do a good job is just being the leader of that offense and really a leader of the team – a guy that people can look to. He probably hasn’t been his sharpest all year, but when times get tight, if that quarterback’s a real leader, if that quarterback’s a guy who can rally the troops around him and get guys to step up in big situations then good things usually happen. I think that’s what you see from Kedon, especially in those first two games where we weren’t playing real sharp and it didn’t look great for us. When we needed him the most, he made plays for us and a lot of that I think has to do with stepping up as a leader and being a guy that people look to and being a guy that can rally the offense and the team around him.”

Harrell on where Slovis can still improve:

“Just relax and play. I think the first couple games I guess the ball was slick – that’s what he said – so some of the throws that came out of his hand, I don’t think it had to do with not being sharp, I think it had to do with he thought the ball was going to slip out of his hands, so he wasn’t throwing it with a ton of confidence. Last game he was throwing the ball a lot better. I think that obviously helps the cause, but the key is always relax, play, have fun and if you do that, good things usually happen.”

Harrell on getting running back Kenan Christon involved more:

“I think he has a special skill set, especially with his speed and that was good to see. With our running backs, when you have as many as we have and when they’re all healthy, I think that sometimes on the sideline people just get into a flow of the game and roll with whoever they’re rolling with. I don’t think there’s ever a plan not to get Kenan into the game. Kenan has a really special skill set and when he gets in open space, can do some special things with the football. It was obviously good to get to see him bust one. Vae (Vavae Malepeai) is a very consistent guy that does everything right and he was playing good ball last week. He carried a majority of the load, but it’s nice to have, no matter who’s in there, we can always put Kenan in and when he gets in the open field he’s pretty special.”

Harrell on the run game’s consistency and the low rushing average if you remove the long runs:

“I think if you look at any team, if you take big runs out the average isn’t going to be great. You just have to keep running the football. You gotta be committed to the run and understand you’re going to hit some for two, you’re going to hit some for three, some for four, then all of a sudden you’re going to hit one for 50. That’s how teams average a lot of yards carrying the football is they hit big plays. That’s not just running the football; that’s throwing the football, too. If you say, well if you eliminate the negative yard runs and looked at the average of it, I bet the average would be pretty good. Well if you take out the explosive runs, the average is not great. I think that, commit to the run, and stay with it and believe in it and understand that’s going to help us all the time. It’s something we have to do and again, you’re hitting them for two, you’re hitting them for three and then all of a sudden you hit them for 50, that’s how you get explosive runs is you have to stay committed to it.”

Harrell on the offensive line:

“I think that they’ve played pretty well as a whole. We’ve leaned on them a decent amount just from the standpoint of we’ve been committed to running the football and a lot of that has to do with them. Dede had to play one week, and Brett – those guys are doing a great job of recognizing pressures and communicating with them for the most part. Brett’s really, really intelligent and Utah showed us a couple blitzes that we hadn’t seen in the past and Brett got us into really good calls to try to pick it up. I think the key for all of us across the board on offense, but if you’re asking about the O-line – I don’t think they’ve ever gotten beat necessarily because they didn’t know what was coming. They just didn’t do what they were coached to do at times. They just have to be consistent, be disciplined, to use the proper technique. On the sack fumble, that was a new blitz for them. Brett got us into a great call and then Jalen just didn’t take the sets that he’s been coached to take and ends up getting beat around the corner. So I’ve been really proud especially of those centers and guys doing a great job of recognizing things and being smart and understanding what we’re trying to do and getting us into good calls. I think that the key – and again it can be for any position, but for o line – be disciplined enough to do your job the way you’re coached to do it over and over and over. That’s going to be, for those guys, I don’t think they’re ever getting out-schemed. I think that every now and then either they’re not communicating – one of the short-yardage situations against Arizona, we didn’t get the communication right. We should have fanned out and we didn’t and the guy came free off the front edge. Or we’re just not taking the proper technique to put ourselves in a position to be successful. If you do those things, and I know that’s pretty generic and probably for everyone, if you’re disciplined enough to do your job and do the techniques you’re taught to do, I think that those centers in particular have done a good job getting us into good situations and allow us to pick everything up that we need to pick up.”

Harrell on what they can do to prepare for a game without practicing:

“I think the only thing you can really do is watch film with them and have meetings with them and try to prepare them as much as you can for the defensive looks and this is what we like and this is why we like it. You have a little more time to do that because you obviously don’t have practice to go to. Practice isn’t restricting how much video you can show them. But it makes it difficult, obviously. I’m a guy who believes in practicing and practicing a lot, so it’s frustrating when you can’t get on the field and work with them. The only way to improve is to go out there and practice and get better at it. Not being able to practice can be frustrating, but you gotta do what you gotta do and sometimes find a way to prepare. I think that you can slow it down and watch a little more tape and explain a little bit more on video, virtually. We have the ability to do that and hopefully they retain the information and lock it in and can make up for it from a mental aspect.”

Harrell on Slovis’ eye discipline this season:

“I think that he does a pretty good job. Last week he stayed on a couple reads longer than he should have stayed on them and if he would have moved on then I think he would have had some other completions. But other than that, Kedon wants to do things exactly the way you coach him to do them, and that’s what makes Kedon as successful as he is. Number one, he’s very talented, and number two, he wants to be coached and he tried to do things exactly how you coach him. So I think Kedon does a really good job on anything we ask him to do. One of the sacks last week, he stayed on a big post longer than he should have stayed on the big post. If he had moved on, he probably avoids the sack and gets a completion to Tyler. But I don’t think that’s necessarily his eye discipline. That’s just him wanting to take the shot and not having it and staying on it too long. He’s a guy that you love having because if you tell him to do something, he’s going to do it and he’s going to do it the best he can and try to do it just how you told him to do it. That’s one of the reasons he’s so fun to coach.”

Harrell on Alijah Vera-Tucker’s play so far this year:

“Alijah’s playing as well as I’ve ever seen an offensive lineman play. There’s not enough good things you can say about him. He’s been the definition of consistent. If you want to see what a really good offensive lineman looks like, watch the last three games. He’s a guy that is very competitive. He’s also very talented, but he does things exactly how he’s asked to do them. He puts himself in the best position to be successful. Obviously it helps to be as big as he is and as athletic as he is, but at the same time, he’s doing things exactly right. He’s fun to watch. I remember last game we ran, on one of our explosive runs, went ran one-back power to the left and he blocked three guys on one play. You see it on film. It looks really simple, but I’ve never seen anyone do it except him. Having him opt back in was obviously huge for us. The team voted him as a captain of the team, so obviously that’s how much respect he has with his teammates. I think a lot of that is because of the way that he works, the way he plays. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s as quick-twitch as I’ve ever seen for a guy that size, and does things exactly the way he’s coached to do them. And when you put that together, you’ve got a really special O lineman.”

Harrell on the lower yards per passing attempt this year compared to last year:

“I would love to throw it down the field, but I think that everyone is playing us to try to prevent that and I don’t blame them. I think that’s what everyone’s game plan is against us, or what it’s been against us. That doesn’t mean it’s going to continue to be that way, but I think that one of the things that most teams try to do is take away explosives and that’s not a bad idea. Utah came out and tried to play a lot of man coverage last year and we threw the ball over the top of their head. This year they didn’t play a single snap of man coverage. They were playing extremely soft and their whole game plan was to not get beat deep. I’ve been proud of the way guys have continued to battle and take what the defense gives them. If they’re not going to let you throw it over their heads, you’re going to need to check it down, go on longer drives, going to have to run the football, and that’s what we’ve been able to do. I think that’s what most peoples’ game plans are. I would love for people to come play tight and let us throw it over their head, but I think people are afraid of us doing that and so therefore their game plan is to play soft, don’t let them throw it over your head and try to keep everything in front of you.”

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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