It’d been almost a month since his dynamic debut as Jaxson Dart stood alone in the center of USC’s practice field on Tuesday, dropping back against air, testing his surgically repaired right knee with each step.
His knee was still sore. It was still protected by a massive brace that encompassed almost his entire leg. But with each passing practice, the Trojans’ electric freshman quarterback has continued to make progress, begging the question of whether he might be healthy enough to return after USC’s bye week, when the Trojans take on Notre Dame.
Neither Dart, nor USC interim coach Donte Williams would provide clear answers to that question on Tuesday. But both seemed to hint at the possibility that his return could be on the horizon.
“I would say as soon as possible,” Dart said. “I’m just trying to stay on top of everything, like I said, doing a ton of therapy, ton of rehab. I picture myself coming back sooner than later.”
There’s no rush this week, with USC on a much-needed bye. But Williams noted on Tuesday that if USC were playing Notre Dame this week, instead of next, that Dart “would be “a lot more full-go.”
Neither expected that Dart would miss any time after his memorable, 391-yard, four-touchdown debut at Washington State. After hobbling through the entire second half on an injured knee, Dart , along with Williams, assumed he would be fine going forward, setting up an expected midseason battle between Dart and incumbent Kedon Slovis.
But the next morning, Dart said he could sense that something was wrong.
“I was just like super amped up, had a lot of adrenaline after the game,” Dart said. “And then that weekend just like woke up, [and] I was like, ‘Man, my knee really hurts.’ So definitely with the outcome of how it happened, I was definitely bummed.”
Dart had surgery to repair his meniscus just a few days later. His patience has been tested since. Upon receiving his prognosis, the freshman told coaches that he planned to beat the timetable doctors had given him.
“Obviously I want to be back right now,” Dart said. “I’m just gonna take it day by day and figure things out.”
USC will have a lot to sort out upon his return, with Slovis having adequately led the offense since his injury. The junior has averaged 344 passing yards and two passing touchdowns over the three games since. But he’s also thrown four interceptions, and the Trojans have lost two of three, with their only win coming against a Colorado team that’s yet to beat an FBS opponent this season.
A quarterback battle might offer a midseason shot of adrenaline. But until Dart returns in full, it’s unclear how that competition might actually play out at this point in a season that’s already rapidly unraveling.
After sustaining what looked like a severe injury to his knee, freshman tight end Michael Trigg won’t need surgery, Williams said.
“It’s a pain tolerance [issue], which is a good thing,” Williams said. “We got a bye week, so that extra week should be able to get him back on the field.”
Trigg wasn’t the only positive injury news USC received over the weekend. Star edge rusher Drake Jackson left the field Saturday in a boot, but was back at practice on Tuesday. He’s expected to be ready to play against Notre Dame.