Kedon Slovis and Southern California have been clutch in the fourth quarter this season. But too many mistakes squashed any hopes of the 13th-ranked Trojans claiming their second Pac-12 football title in four years and a shot at a New Year's Six bowl game.
Slovis' three interceptions top the list of USC gaffes in its 31-24 loss to Oregon on Friday night. The sophomore had a pair of picks during the first quarter that led to Ducks touchdowns and a 14-0 lead. The last one was his first fourth-quarter interception in 18 games.
“The fact of the matter is we had self-inflicted wounds with turnovers and penalties,” coach Clay Helton said. "To have nine penalties and three interceptions, that can cost you a championship.”
USC came into the game with three fourth-quarter comebacks, including last Saturday at UCLA. But the Trojans (5-1) were unable to rally this time.
Slovis gave the Ducks a short field to convert for their first two scores. Deommodore Lenoir returned the first interception to the Trojans 19 after Slovis' pass to Tyler Vaughns was thrown behind him.
Jamal Hill's first interception, which came midway through the first quarter at the USC 32, came on an ill-advised throw after the pocket collapsed. Hill then grabbed what proved to be the clinching interception with 2:49 remaining when he managed to pick it off before going out of bounds.
“The last one, I really think Kedon was trying to throw that ball away. Looks like it came out of his hand a little funky, and their kid made a nice play on the sideline,” Helton said.
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The final interception came three plays after Bru McCoy had a pass go through his hands at the Oregon 12, which would have put the Trojans in great shape.
Slovis completed 28 of 52 passes for 320 yards with three touchdowns. Helton said Slovis possibly injured his shoulder late in the game and that it was being looked at. Oregon is one of the few teams that Slovis has struggled against. Both of the sophomore’s three-interception games have been against the Ducks.
Oregon's defensive line got the better of USC's front all night with three sacks and numerous pressures. Linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux thwarted a late first-quarter drive when Markese Stepp was stopped for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Oregon 44.
“It’s a talented front and we know Kayvon and what he can do. I thought he had tremendous jump off the ball tonight," Helton said. “They got three sacks tonight, but they flushed Kedon out of the pocket and got him off his spot a bunch. I did think Kedon did a nice job of keeping his eyes up and downfield and creating a lot after being flushed.”
Slovis wasn't the only USC standout to struggle. Junior safety Talanoa Huganga was called for a roughing the punter penalty early in the fourth quarter to keep an Oregon drive alive. The Ducks converted that into Henry Katleman's 40-yard field goal, extending their lead to 31-17.
The Trojans felt overlooked coming into Friday's game by being ranked only 13th in the College Football Playoff. But they ran into an Oregon team that had a week's rest after its game against Washington was canceled last week due to COVID-19 cases with the Huskies.
Washington was slated to be USC's opponent, but Oregon was designated on Monday as the fill-in team. The Trojans were playing their third game in 13 days and were facing their fifth opponent that had at least a week's rest coming into the game.
Helton said after the game that the Trojans haven't decided if they would accept a bowl invitation.