USC QB Jaxson Dart to make debut start in UCLA rivalry game

Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Growing up in northern Utah, Jaxson Dart obviously couldn’t acquire a full appreciation of what makes Southern California’s rivalry with UCLA so good.

The Trojans’ 18-year-old freshman quarterback realizes he’s about to get a crash course in the emotions and excitement of Los Angeles’ crosstown showdown.

Dart will make his first career start for USC (4-5, 3-4 Pac-12) on Saturday at the Coliseum against the Bruins (6-4, 4-3). Third-year starter Kedon Slovis is still sidelined by a lower leg injury, clearing the way for Dart to fully take charge of the Trojans’ offense after three appearances this season in relief.

“I wouldn’t really expect my first start to be in a rivalry game like this,” Dart said. “All the emotions and the history of it all. I’m just super excited for the opportunity, and I’m ready to go.”

A USC quarterback hasn’t made his first career start against UCLA since Scott Tinsley did it in 1980, but Dart isn’t completely new. He already got a good bit of playing time this season despite missing time after having surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee in September.

Dart made an electric debut two months ago at Washington State, coming on in relief of an injured Slovis to pass for 391 yards and four touchdowns despite injuring his own knee in the first half. Dart was out for the next month, but he returned for the Trojans’ past two games.

“All it comes down to is I’m getting more reps now, so I’m able to get a better rhythm and get the feel of the offense a lot better,” he said.

Dart is used to doing surprising things: He ended up at USC after he transferred to a new high school for his senior season and promptly became the nation’s leading passer and the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

With plenty of attention late in the recruiting cycle, he ended up choosing USC over suitors including UCLA. Dart was impressed by Chip Kelly and by Jason Kaufusi, the Bruins’ outside linebackers coach, who played at the University of Utah alongside Dart’s father, safety Brandon Dart.

Despite his youth and lack of local ties, Dart has made himself right at home on USC’s downtown campus. Dart’s emergence is a bright spot in a lost season for the Trojans, who went into limbo two months ago when athletic director Mike Bohn fired coach Clay Helton two games into his seventh season in charge.

“Young kid coming from out of state, but he just fit right in,” center Brett Neilon said. “He’s friends with everyone in the whole locker room, and then when he stepped up in Washington State, it seemed like he’d already had a handful of starts under his belt. Being only 18 and leading some guys who are in their 20s is pretty great.”

Dart beat out fellow touted newcomer Miller Moss for the backup job and then seized his chance to impress USC interim coach Donte Williams, who clearly appreciates Dart’s exciting, athletic style. He’s also grateful for Dart’s role in securing Williams’ first head coaching victory in Pullman.

“I just want him to step on the field and lead us like I know he can,” Williams said.

When Dart was healthy again, Williams implemented a two-quarterback system for both games in which both Slovis and Dart were healthy, even though the arrangement didn’t make much sense to his players.

Williams has been elaborately coy this season about his players’ injury status – even more so than the average college football coach – yet he already declared Dart his starter for Saturday, saying the decision was essentially made for him by Slovis’ unavailability for practice.

“Jaxson is a very naturally confident kid, and he carries himself in a good way and expects things to go his way,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “That’s a big thing at the quarterback position.”

Dart got an extra week of preparation when the Trojans’ game at California last weekend was postponed to next month. After two full weeks running USC’s offense in practice, he’s ready to seize his moment on one of the Trojans’ biggest stages.

“I don’t really see much pressure from the outside,” Dart said. “My expectation is to have a big game.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.