USC QBs need to cut out turnovers before trip to Notre Dame
Slovis, a freshman, threw three interceptions in an overtime loss at BYU in his first college game away from the L.A. Coliseum, and the redshirt junior Fink didn’t fare much better in his first career start, throwing three interceptions in a loss at No. 14 Washington on Saturday.
Trojans offensive coordinator Graham Harrell would like to believe those performances are more than the product of being away from home, especially with another difficult trip to No. 9 Notre Dame ahead following an open week.
“I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with being on the road,” Harrell said. “I think it’s just poor decision-making. Cause we got however many more games on the road, and I don’t get much say in whether we play at home or on the road.”
Struggles with ball security have been an issue for all three quarterbacks who have seen time for USC (3-2), including sophomore J.T. Daniels in the opener against Fresno State before he sustained a season-ending knee injury. Quarterbacks are responsible for 10 of USC’s 13 turnovers, including an FBS-worst nine interceptions.
Slovis and Fink have each accounted for four picks, as the inexperienced signal-callers have struggled to diagnose zone defenses on the road. The Cougars flummoxed Slovis by rushing three defenders and dropping eight back into coverage. The Huskies used a similar approach to baffle Fink when he got the start as Slovis was not cleared from concussion protocol after being knocked out of the game against Utah.
Fink said he tried to do too much against Washington, with the most glaring example coming in the red zone when he did not see defensive back Elijah Molden trailing underneath to make a leaping interception at the goal line. Instead of having a chance to cut Washington’s lead to one score, USC was down 28-7 when Salvon Ahmed broke an 89-yard touchdown run two plays later.
“It was basically on me to, you know, go through my reads and check it down and take what’s there and not be greedy, not be selfish,” Fink said. “And, unfortunately, that happened a few times. Tried to force it into areas that I should not have thrown it, and obviously bad things are going to happen when you do that.”
From his vantage point on the visiting sideline, still feeling the headache resulting from the hit he took on the second play from scrimmage against the Utes, Slovis saw the same mistakes he had made against BYU by trying to force the ball into tight windows.
“And sometimes you get excited,” Slovis said. “You get a good play call. And other times you think you see something pre-snap, and that’s when you don’t want to guess. But if you just go through your read and see it the whole way, and really, really just be disciplined as coach mentions, you know, it’s not that difficult.”
Having the discipline to make the safe throw is something Harrell and his pupils will stress during the next two weeks.
If Slovis gets cleared in time, he will get the opportunity to show if he has learned those lessons against the Fighting Irish. Slovis participated in a no-pads practice Tuesday but has not been cleared for contact, coach Clay Helton said.
Harrell said Slovis would start as long as he is medically available.
The Fighting Irish look to have even greater capabilities for getting after the passer without blitzing after picking up eight sacks in a 35-20 win over No. 23 Virginia. Notre Dame also recovered three fumbles and intercepted two interceptions.
Helton understands ball security will be paramount to ending a three-game losing streak in South Bend, Indiana. Helton believes the offense has played well apart from the turnovers and expects Slovis and Fink will be better served against Notre Dame because of the challenges they have faced.
“Learn from each experience, and they will, and being on the road they’ve learned is hard,” Helton said. “And there’s a level of decision-making and discipline that it’s even harder when you’re not in the friendly confines of the Coliseum.”