Darnold blazing a new path for Trojans

LOS ANGELES-Quarterback U looks like its in good hands again. Rodney Peete, Vince Evans, Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Marck Sanchez, Pat Haden and Matt Barkley have to be proud of the way Sam Darnold is playing for the Trojans.

The Quarterback Club at USC is a list of Who’s Who in the pantheon of college football and Trojans lore. Only greatness is applicable here. Darnold just might have that kind of DNA in him. Judging by what he’s done in the last two games, Darnold could very well be the next great USC quarterback.

That could be a bit of a stretch after just three full games as a starter under his belt, but it’s always good to dream. Elevating the program beyond relevancy to elite status would push Darnold past being a household name.

It could take him to the frontline of Heisman Trophy contention in a year or two. But for right now, USC will gladly take some wins and a climb back to Pac-12 Conference respectability. So far, so good for Darnold and the Trojans. The Trojans are winning. And Darnold is making it look easy.

The last two games in particular have looked like a stroll in the park for Darnold and the USC offense. The first thing you notice about the USC offense since Darnold took over as the starting quarterback is that everything seems to move in a hurry.

The Trojans seem to have more of a pep in their steps these days. They break out of the huddle quicker. They get up and down the field with more fluidity. The change is apparent. The Trojans seem to be wearing the switch pretty well.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold passed for 358 yards and three touchdowns against Colorado in the Trojans' 21-17 win on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
USC quarterback Sam Darnold passed for 358 yards and three touchdowns against Colorado in the Trojans’ 21-17 win on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

By the way he’s been playing the last couple of weeks, USC head coach Clay Helton looks justified by giving the keys to the Trojans’ offense to Darnold, a redshirt freshman. The first three weeks in the season, the USC came up missing in action against Alabama, fizzled against Stanford and played predictable in a 45-7 win against Utah State.

The Trojans’ offense looked like a grandfather’s clock hanging on your mother’s wall, resembling a piece of outdated furniture at the beginning of the season. Now it looks like a more up-to-date, modernized timepiece worthy of the attention it’s been getting lately.

The Trojans went futuristic with putting Darnold in as the starter. Why? Like every other college football program in the country, going with a dual-threat quarterback is the way to go. The days of the stand-in-the-pocket has pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur.

Like he demonstrated on Saturday against Colorado in the Trojans’ 21-17 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the previously No. 21 ranked Buffaloes, Darnold gives the Trojans the best of both worlds. He can run. He can throw. He makes smart decisions. He know how to lead his team to victory.

He also has tough skin. After an opening-series blunder of fumbling the football right at the goal line on USC’s first offensive possession, Darnold shook himself off, dusted his feet and went on to dissect Colorado’s defense to the tune of 358 yards and three touchdowns through the air.

He also added another 33 yards on the ground in the Trojans’ upset win. Numbers, however, don’t really equate to the impact he’s had on the Trojans’ offense.  Against Colorado,  Darnold’s toughness received a two thumbs up sign when he directed the Trojans to a 7-0 lead on the team’s second series of the game when he completed a 32-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Imatorbhebhe.

The smarts of Mr. Darnold came out in full display as the Buffaloes were hoping to stuff the Trojans late in the game to try and have a chance with a final series. That was squashed when Darnold hit wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 25-yard pickup on a third-and-seven with 1: 27 left in the game.

Game over. Check, please.

Darnold’s stellar performance against Colorado follows his 352 yards and three touchdowns show in USC’s 41-20 beatdown of Arizona State the week before. So what gives? Is Darnold and USC just playing better than the team did at the start of the season?

Are the last two wins by the Trojans fool’s gold because of the suspect opponents they played? The correct answer could be somewhere in the middle. What is undeniable is the urgent dynamic that Darnold brings to the USC offense.

The football delivered from Darnold’s right arm comes off like a cannon. His decision-making of when and where to place the football comes off with the precision of a marksman. He plays the quarterback position with the gut-toughness of a coal-miner.

Darnold’s versatility might be the right mix to help the Trojans seriously contend for the Pac-12 Conference South Division crown.

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1076 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.