By DAN GREENSPAN
LOS ANGELES — With an eye on both its present and future, Southern California might use two quarterbacks against Arizona on Saturday.
Freshman Jaxson Dart could play for the first time since suffering a knee injury in his college debut for the Trojans last month.
“We’re gonna do what we need to do to win this particular ballgame, whether that’s playing two quarterbacks, whether that’s just one playing the whole game or whatever the case may be,” interim coach Donte Williams said.
USC (3-4, 2-3 Pac-12) had prepared a package of plays for Dart to come in against Washington State on Sept. 18 in the first game after the firing of head coach Clay Helton. But starter Kedon Slovis sustained a neck injury on the opening possession, forcing Dart to direct the offense to a 45-14 win.
Dart threw for 391 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed for 32 yards but sustained a knee injury that required surgery, scuttling Williams’ desire to create competition at quarterback.
After returning to practice on a limited basis last week, Dart worked with the second unit this week and looks to be on track to play at home for the first time.
“I’m just excited to be back now,” Dart said.
Dart’s mobility could help out an offensive line that has struggled to keep a clean pocket for Slovis, a junior. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell didn’t specify whether Dart would come in for specific situations, such as short yardage or at the goal line, or stay on the field for an entire drive.
For the Wildcats (0-7, 0-4), they are certain to take the tack of using multiple quarterbacks in an effort to end a 19-game losing streak, the longest in school history. Wide receiver Jamarye Joiner proved effective as a change of pace to freshman Will Plummer in a tough loss to Washington last week. Joiner rushed four times for 25 yards, scoring Arizona’s only touchdown on a 1-yard run in the second quarter, and did not complete his lone pass attempt.
“He’ll have another week of reps,” coach Jedd Fisch said. “So I believe that there’ll be some more opportunity to expand his package.”
The big numbers posted by USC wide receiver Drake London have been perhaps the lone bright spot in a forgettable season, as he ranks second in the FBS in receptions (79) and yards receiving (1,003). London has 156 more yards than the next-most productive Power 5 receiver, Virginia’s Dontayvion Wicks (847).
But even in those statistics are signs of the Trojans’ struggles in the passing game, as Pro Football Focus has credited London with 19 contested catches. “I think that when Drake’s covered, he’s still open,” Harrell said. “Regardless of what they’re doing over there, you got to give that guy a chance to make plays, and he’s gonna make something.”
FLUMMOXED IN FOURTH
The Wildcats have been outscored 48-0 in the fourth quarter of their past four games, which Fisch said is all the more disappointing because they led Washington and were within one possession against Oregon and UCLA after three quarters.
“We have to play 60 minutes of football. We’re playing like 47 minutes, and we’re just picking which 47 we want to play,” Fisch said.
USC has outscored the opposition 88-13 in the fourth quarter this season, but much of that has been empty production in losses because the Trojans have been so dismal in the second and third quarters.
USC has little margin for error to avoid the ignominy of its second losing season in four years, and London insists the Trojans will do everything possible to salvage a bowl game at a minimum. And London is backing it up despite being draft-eligible and regarded as a possible first-round selection, insisting it’s “100%” he’ll play in the postseason should USC reach it.
“I think that’s just our role as upperclassmen to guide them and lead them in a way that is better for the program and better for them as individuals,” he said.
Arizona expects to have sophomore running backs Drake Anderson and Michael Wiley available after they missed the loss to the Huskies because of injuries. Anderson leads the team with 238 yards rushing, and Wiley is second with 185 yards.