Posted on November 3, 2021
Perhaps not for all situations, but it could be when looking at USC’s quarterback situation.
Just ask JT Daniels.
At the beginning of 2018, the writing was on the wall for Daniels to become a star. In 2017 he led Mater Dei High School to a national championship while becoming the Gatorade national player of the year in the process.
Anyone and everyone with a mind worth a grain of salt knew that he would be the next rung on the Mater Dei to USC ladder that includes the likes of Matt Leinart, Matt Barkley and Sam Darnold.
Set to become the first player since Barkley in 2009 to start as a true freshman, his ceiling went beyond the cosmos.
The best part of his career ended before it started. For being a first-year starter, Daniels was mediocre. For being the replacement to a Top 10 draft pick, he was a flat out disappointment.
The 2018 season ended with USC dropping 3 of their last 4 games, including two losses to end the year against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.
When he hurt his knee in the first game of the season against Fresno State, Daniels was forced to sit and watch freshman Kedon Slovis take his Trojan fame and fortune away from him.
Slovis dazzled in his debut season throwing for 3,502 yards and completing passes at an impressive 72% clip. Daniels was like an iPod touch, outdated and boring, while Slovis was like an iPhone, cutting edge and full of endless possibilities.
Daniels transferred to Georgia for the 2020 season, and after losing the starting spot multiple times, his precipice is now his peak.
JT Daniels provides a cautionary, but informative tale about what happens in college football. In a business based around results and projections, coaches’ leash of loyalty goes as far as those two variables.
Now Slovis could be learning the same lesson Daniels did with the emergence of true freshman Jaxson Dart.
I was in the Coliseum when Dart made his home debut this past Saturday, and it sparked one of the biggest roars from the Trojans faithful all season long.
The transition of power took place in the second quarter following a dull 11-play drive that resulted in 34 yards, led by Kedon Slovis. The atmosphere felt closer to a bungalow for hearing tests than a stadium.
Fans in front of my section were scrolling on their phones and making idle chit chat. But when Dart came to replace Slovis the Coliseum was awakened.
They were hit with an invisible pair of defibrillators in the form of a kid from Kaysville, Utah, with a puka shell necklace and lightning bolt of eye black on the right side of his face.
Dart replied to the warm welcome with a 96-yard touchdown drive. He was snappy and tactical. On first down from the Arizona 14, he hit London for a 12-yard completion and then raced to the line of scrimmage to hit him again for the score.
Noticing that Arizona was scrambling to substitute lineman and get players set was a phenomenal display of awareness for a freshman in his second game.
He accomplished something that Slovis wasn’t able to do—engage fans. Up until that touchdown, the only time fans in the stadium were standing and cheering was for the three USC veterans who recently graduated.
Between the extra point and kick off, the graphics on the Jumbotron suddenly weren’t glossed over.
Before that touchdown from Dart to London, attendees were scrolling on their phones in between the action, but now they were hooked to a segment where USC players had to identify objects from the 90’s.
Pointing a finger and gasping at Greg Johnson who couldn’t identify a Gameboy while clapping for Vavae Malepai when he was able to. When the DJ played “Hey Macarena!” all over the stadium people were extending their arms and opening their palms.
I think Pete Carroll said himself he knew Matt Leinart was the real deal when he got the crowd to do the Macarena, I’m paraphrasing and possibly making up what he said, but you get the point.
On the ensuing possession, Dart was phenomenal once again, leading USC down the field for a six-play, 62-yard drive that clocked in at 2 minutes and 45 seconds.
The six-yard touch down pass to London capped off the drive and unfortunately his season.
Besides the devastating injury, things were going swimmingly for the Trojans. They were up 28-7 with four minutes left in the half and were on their way to possibly dropping a 50-burger on the Wildcats.
For reasons that I can’t understand, interim head coach Donte Williams decided to put Slovis back in the game. He contributed to 20 points for the rest of the game; well technically 13 if you leave out the pick-six he threw to begin the second half.
Dart ended up having to come back into the game in the fourth quarter for a field goal drive after Slovis was lackluster in the third quarter.
Now I’m not sure if you can fire an interim head coach or relegate him back to his initial role, but if there was ever such a case it would be this one. Following Dart’s second touchdown the Coliseum was more alive than it’s ever been, so why take him out?
Imagine asking for a sample at Baskin Robbins, having it knock you off your feet, but when you order it the cashier denies you and says “you’ll have to come back some other time to purchase it.”
Moves like that are unpalatable because it reminds fans that the team is choosing the route of inertia. Slovis clearly can’t make plays happen if it doesn’t involve Drake London, while Dart’s dual-threat abilities force teams to cover the entire field.
Heading into Saturday’s game, Williams had this to say about the situation:
“It’s about getting the right guy on the field so we win the football game, whatever that entails,”
The right guy is Dart, no two ways about it.