LOS ANGELES — Clay Helton honestly hopes his quarterback situation doesn’t reach that point. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell wants to avoid it at all costs.USCfans hoping for an upset of No. 17Washingtonon Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox) are probably terrified by the proposition.
But with quarterbackKedon Slovisin concussion protocol and still not medically cleared for the No. 21 Trojans’ game against the Huskies this weekend, it still remains as a real possibility.
Redshirt junior Matt Fink, who threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-23 win over then-No. 10 Utah last week, would start against Washington if Slovis cannot go. In that very realistic hypothetical, redshirt junior walk-on Brandon Perdue, who arrived on campus last year as a quarterback, moved to safety this spring and returned to quarterback last month, would be only one play away from being USC’s QB1.
It’s a panic-inducing thought for many people. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Perdue, who still dons an un-QB-like No. 27 jersey at practice and hasn’t even been outfitted with the gold non-contact jersey all Trojan quarterbacks wear, is here to explain why you shouldn’t fear.
“Coach Harrell has done an amazing job with this offense,” Perdue said. “We have Michael Pittman Jr., Amon-Ra (St. Brown), Stephen Carr, everybody, I could go down the list all day. One guy isn’t going to make a difference. You give them a chance and they’ll make plays. A quarterback is just distributing the ball and letting guys make plays for you. Believe it or not, it’s not the most difficult thing in the world. Just don’t overthink it, let your guys make a play and there should be no concern.
“I’m here. I have the best coaches, have the best supporting crew. There’s no concern.”
Perdue, the guy who is still listed as a safety on USC’s official website, has admittedly taken a long, long road here.
When Perdue was growing up in Simi Valley, Calif., playing for USC was always the dream. He used to attend USC games all the time as a child. His father, Bradley, is an equine veterinarian and began working with the university’s live mascot,Traveler, back in the early 2000s.
At Oaks Christian High School (Westlake Village, Calif.), Brandon never earned the starting nod for the varsity team.
“If I remember a little bit, (Perdue) was a good kid, he was a talented kid,” recalls former Oaks Christian coach Bill Redell, a College Football Hall of Fame quarterback from his days at Occidental and longtime a SouthernCaliforniahigh school coach. “But we ended up going with Matt Corral.” Corralis now the starting quarterback atBe Miss.
In limited action as a senior at Oaks Christian in 2014, Perdue completed 14 of his 19 pass attempts for 79 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Obviously, he was light on scholarship offers; he said his only one came from Division II Pace University in New York. He lasted a summer there before enrolling at Los Angeles Pierce College, in Woodland Hills, Calif.
Pierce is where Perdue compiled the majority of his career stats. In 2016, after a year away from football, he went 21 of 59 for 213 yards, two touchdowns and an interception while running for 73 yards on 19 carries.
It’s been nearly two years since Perdue actually played quarterback in a game. After a season at Pierce, he transferred to New Mexico Military Institute, the junior college that recently produced former Ole Miss starting quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. Perdue played extensively in theBroncos’17-14 victory over Tyler Junior College on Oct. 21, 2017. He completed 10 of 22 passes for 78 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
New Mexico Military Institute coach Joe Forchtner says nobody really grabbed control of the quarterback job that season, so Perdue had about every role you could imagine for a quarterback. He was a starter for some games, a backup for a few and the third-string guy for a couple of others. And to Forchtner, he still remains something of a mystery.
“He came in kind of a hard situation,” Forchtner said. “He had already been at a California junior college and he was coming in here for his sophomore year and basically had to learn an offense and compete for a starting spot and do all that on a three-week camp. We started camp on Aug. 1 and our first game was the 23rd, I think. So he basically had three weeks. He was only here a semester, so I probably don’t know him as well as coaches who they’ve been with for four years.”
So what do we actually know about Perdue?
“He definitely looks the part,” Forchtner said. “He looks like you would expect or would want a quarterback to look like. He’s tall and has a great frame. When he throws the ball in shorts and shirts and stuff like that, he’s got a great arm, he can throw it however you want him to throw it.”
Perdue’s brother was accepted into USC to finish his Ph.D. in the spring of 2018, so Perdue sent one of his few applications there. He ended up coming back to L.A., but his brother went to Columbia instead.
Former Trojans walk-on quarterback Holden Thomas told Perdue the team needed a walk-on QB, so Perdue signed on and was added to the roster last season, running USC’s scout-team offense ever since.
The Trojans’ star receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who posted career highs in receptions (10) and yards (232) againstUtahlast week, is the only player on the roster who played with Perdue in high school.
Pittman said Perdue has a strong arm and is a pretty strong guy overall. And his personality?
“I’d say he’s like a farmer,” Pittman said. “That’s probably the best thing I can say about him.”
“A farmer?” Perdue said. “Ah, man. That’s not a bad thing. Farmers are great people, man. Maybe that is a good description for me. I work hard and I solve problems. I guess that’s a good way to sum me up. I guess I’m a farmer.”
Nobody has really seen much of Perdue, so what, exactly, is his skill set? Helton described him as a good athlete with some arm strength.
Perdue’s self-assessment: “My skill set? I can throw the heck out of the ball. Then, if need be, I can get you five to 10 yards. That’s what it is.”
Slovis, who exited two plays into last Friday’s game when his head hit the turf after a hit by a Utah defensive lineman, didn’t practice Tuesday. Players go through the concussion protocol at their own paces, so it’s unclear when the Trojans’ true freshman QB will be cleared to return.
JT Danielssuffered a concussion against Utah last year and missed the next week’s game againstArizona State. The week before, linebacker Palaie Gaoteote had gone into concussion protocol after delivering a big hit on Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault but returned to play against the Utes. Nickelback Greg Johnson entered the concussion protocol after theBYUgame and played Friday against Utah. Corner Isaac Taylor-Stuart went into the protocol last Monday and didn’t play against Utah but was back at practice on Tuesday. It all varies.
Helton optimistically hasn’t completely ruled out Slovis as of yet. Harrell, on the other hand, is more realistic.
“I spend most of my time (right now) trying to figure out how to win with Fink,” he said.
If Fink goes down, Harrell said, it’s not an ideal situation. He said he’d have to get creative at that point. Maybe St. Brown would get some reps back there, Harrell pondered.
Receiver Tyler Vaughns took some reps at quarterback Tuesday, just to get used to it. Vaughns has one collegiate pass to his name. It traveled 36 yards and resulted in a touchdown to Pittman last season against Arizona State.
“He’s got a good arm and he’s athletic too,” Helton said of Vaughns. “We practice for every moment and every situation. You hope for the best, but you better prepare for the absolute worst.”
If it gets to Perdue, Helton said there is a package installed for him. Neither Helton nor Harrell said it’s a rather extensive package, but it’s something.
And it’s pretty improbable that it may only be one play away from having to be utilized.
“If my opportunity comes, so be it,” Perdue said, “and I’ll do my best.”
(Photo of Brandon Perdue courtesy of USC Athletics)