USC Trojans: Implications of Jaxson Dart’s Knee Surgery in 2021 and Beyond
Just four days ago, the USC Trojans appeared to have a second-half breakthrough against Washington State under the guidance of true freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart. Unfortunately, it appears that the freshman sensation will be out of action for an extended period of time following reports from USCFootball.com that Dart underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee suffered during that win.
Despite injuring that knee in the second quarter, Dart looked fantastic against the Cougars. He threw for 391 yards and four touchdowns while bringing a new element to the offense as the Trojans’ leading rusher in the contest. With his combination of quick decision-making, strong arm, and quick feet, Dart breathed new life into the increasingly stagnant Graham Harrell-led air raid.
While it was possible to argue that Dart should not have been the starter in the Trojans week 4 contest (Dart did throw two interceptions), it became rapidly clear against Washington State that Dart absolutely elevates the ceiling of the Trojans’ offense.
Now, Dart is out for an unspecified amount of time. A meniscus surgery could mean either a repair or trim, which have significantly different timelines. If Dart’s injury allowed him to have a meniscus trim, then he will be out a minimum of two to four weeks. Meanwhile, a repair would require 3-6 months of rehab.
Either way, this injury significantly changes the complexion of the Trojans’ 2021 season and the PAC-12 South by extension.
While no decision had been made by the Trojans’ coaches in terms of a starting quarterback going forward, Dart is the Trojans’ clear quarterback of the future. Losing him now to injury is a missed opportunity to get a jump start on that future.
While Dart was electric against Washington State, there were several poor throws and decisions by Dart. If Dart were able to get a full season under his belt, the Trojans would be more likely to have a version of Dart closer to peak efficiency with a new coach in 2022.
While those long-term consequences are present, there are also significant short-term consequences of this injury as well.
Despite the embarrassing loss to the Stanford Cardinal, the Trojans are 2-1, and many of their goals are still within reach, including a PAC-12 title and potential Rose Bowl appearance.
To reach these heights, the Trojans will need either elevated play from Kedon Slovis or a more consistent, less turnover-prone version of Dart.
Unfortunately, one window of opportunity for Dart to get live reps and get true freshman mistakes out of his system is coming soon on the schedule. The Trojans face the weak Oregon State Beavers, the inconsistent Colorado Buffs, and an underachieving Utah Utes football program in the next three weeks before facing Notre Dame.
The more steady hand of Kedon Slovis should be enough to have a good chance to win those next three games (provided the Trojans show up ready to play in those weeks), but the USC Trojans would benefit greatly from the high ceiling of Dart against Notre Dame and other tough opponents such as UCLA and BYU.
Perhaps Dart can come back in time to face the stretch run of Arizona, Arizona State, and UC Berkley later in the year, but the Trojans are losing an opportunity for Dart to grow now against a relatively weak slate of teams.
With Slovis, the Trojans can certainly be good. However, their ceiling on the season is significantly limited with Slovis.
Although this news is poor all around for the Trojans’ season, it is uplifting to know that interim coach Donte Williams is putting the health of the Trojans’ quarterback of the future first and foremost.
As Williams said, “We’re just making sure we protect Jaxson from Jaxson.”
In a season where the Trojans’ grandest aspirations are gone, fans can take solace in the fact that the coaching staff is taking care of key pieces for the future.