TrojanSports - First-and-10: The key takeaways and critiques from USC's win over Stanford
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First-and-10: The key takeaways and critiques from USC's win over Stanford

Freshman WR Drake London, veteran Michael Pittman and running back Vavae Malepeai celebrate during the Trojans' win over Stanford.
Freshman WR Drake London, veteran Michael Pittman and running back Vavae Malepeai celebrate during the Trojans' win over Stanford. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Images)

**Every week, Tajwar Khandaker breaks down USC's game from all angles, hitting on the 10 most important takeaways, observations and critiques.**

1. Kedon Slovis, of course

Could the night have gone any better for true freshman quarterbackKedon Slovis, who completed 28 of 33 passes for 377 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions? Slovis was on the money all game, and even early when the Trojans fell behind by 14 he was playing excellent football. It’s already been said and will be said a thousand more times, but the composure Slovis showed in the high pressure situation he found himself Saturday was remarkable.

Down two touchdowns early because of defensive lapses and a special teams miscue, the freshman was nonetheless in control, telling his teammates that they would score when they got the ball -- which they did over and over and over. Slovis is a natural fit for Graham Harrell’s offense and it showed. His ability to check through his reads rapidly and to assess them correctly is invaluable. He made good decisions all night -- evident in his ridiculous 84.8 completion percentage -- and that does not at all mean he was conservative. The faith he has in his ability was evident in the many high-difficulty throws he made on the night.

A pair of back shoulder fades to Michael Pittman and Tyler Vaughns, a deep dime to Amon-Ra St. Brown for a touchdown and a rocket into a tiny window for Vaughns showcased the full range of Slovis’ skillset -- he can legitimately put the ball anywhere on the field. He was near flawless Saturday night, and he’s now set the bar so high he might not reach it again. He is a freshman, and that self-confidence that led to some of his greatest plays in his debut start might get him in trouble going forward. He will have growing pains, and not every game will look like this. Nonetheless, Slovis is a special, special player -- as advertised by Harrell.

His debut was as spectacular as it could have been. Now it's just a matter of what he can do with the rest of this season.

2. WR rotation -- it does exist

After shocking most everyone last week by only running Pittman, Vaughns, St. Brown, and Velus Jones at receiver for the whole Fresno State game, the Trojans dipped into the pool of deeply-talented receivers on their roster last night. Munir McClain and Devon Williams both saw the field and recorded catches, and Drake London caught 3 balls for 62 yards in his receiving debut. USC’s receiving corps is a nightmare for opposing defenses when utilized to its fullest. There are simply too many threats, and no two of them can be guarded the same way. For a DB, trying to remember the nuances of covering each receiver is much harder when you have to deal with six or more of them.

The rotation still allowed for the top three to go off as St. Brown had 8 catches for 97 yards and 2 TDs, Pittman had 6 receptions for 82 yards and Vaughns tallied 5 grabs for 106 yards and a TD. This position group is likely the Trojans’ strongest -- if it’s rolled out the way we saw Saturday night or even further, it can be lethal.

3. Pittman produces

Michael Pittman Jr. is the Trojans’ best receiver and possibly their best offensive player overall, so it was strange to see him unused for anything but short hitches against Fresno State and to not receive a single target in the first half against Stanford. Up to halftime Saturday night, Pittman only had 28 receiving yards for the season. Whatever the reason, it was a gross misuse of one of the most talented players on the USC roster. It seems, thankfully, that they figured that out.

After the half, Pittman became the primary target for Slovis, catching 6 balls for 82 yards. He himself noted after the game that the damage he and Slovis did together happened over the course of one half, and to imagine what it would be if they played full games on the same page going forward.

"I didn't want to really pressure him and I didn't want to make him force any passes, so I just kind of like let it be. He just started coming to me in the third quarter and it could have been like that all game, but I feel like he's learning and I feel like it won't take that long next game," he said.

It’s an exciting thought, and a very probable one. A target like Pittman is a boon for any quarterback, and Slovis’ ability to put contested balls in the perfect place is a perfect fit for Pittman’s penchant for catching jump balls. Hopefully Pittman remains a high-volume target -- it makes the offense far more dynamic.


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