USC starting quarterback Sam Darnold entered the 2017 college football season as one of the favorites —if not the favorite—to win the Heisman Trophy. His season has had more ups than downs, though, which begs the question: does he still have a shot at the award come season's end?
Darnold came out of the gates and struggled against Western Michigan Broncos, finishing with 289 passing yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. USC still won the game, thanks in most part to a stellar running game and some key stops down the stretch.
The second game of the season saw Darnold and his Trojans take on the Stanford Cardinal and, frankly, we all thought this would be more of a struggle. Sam's star shined bright, though, as he went 21 of 26 for 316 yards while tossing four touchdowns. Any doubts from the Western Michigan game seemed to be put to rest with this performance.
Since the, though, things have sort of gone downhill for Darnold; I know, it may too early to say he is "done" in terms of winning the Heisman, but over the last three games he has gone 2-1 with a stat line of 784 passing yards, 7 touchdowns (5 passing, 2 rushing), and 4 interceptions.
His most recent performance (a 30-27 loss to WSU) was one to forget; he did have two rushing touchdowns but, down the stretch, failed to deliver a game-winning drive which, in turn, could have been one of his defining "Heisman moments" on his campaign - something that has been few and far between. He ended up only completing 15 of 29 passes for 164 yards and one interception. While his passer rating in this game was 92.3, he managed to post a QBR of a mere 37.6 (that, my friends, is not good).
(Warning: the following content may be deemed to "nerdy" for some at home. Reader discretion is advised). For those of you wondering what exactly "QBR" is, bare with me. For a glimpse into what this entails, here is a section from ESPN explaining the stat:
"...since college football has imbalanced schedules, QBR will be seen in both a form that adjusts for defenses faced - often called Opponent-Adjusted QBR or Adjusted QBR - and in a form that doesn't adjust for defense, often called Raw QBR or Unadjusted QBR.
Unlike NCAA Passer Efficiency, which uses only box score statistics, Total QBR accounts for what a quarterback does on a play-by-play level, meaning it accounts for down, distance, field position, as well as the clock and score. A 5-yard gain on third-and-4 is a good play, whereas a 5-yard gain on third-and-14 isn't. A 20-yard touchdown pass when tied in the second quarter means more than a 20-yard touchdown pass when down 30 points late in the fourth quarter. QBR accounts for those things using analysis that turns traditional productivity into points on the scoreboard and wins in the standings.
It also accounts for a quarterback's ability to scramble, his ability to run on designed rush plays, how well he avoids sacks, drawing and committing penalties, and all-important fumbles, which can be significant for quarterbacks."
His QBR (raw and adjusted) over the last three games has decreased; against the likes of Texas, Cal, and Washington State - respectively - he has posted raw QBR's of 54.1 (ADJ: 69.2), 60.5 (ADJ: 62.4), and 37.6 (ADJ: 53.1). To put this in perspective, he didn't throw a touchdown against Western Michigan and still had a better raw QBR in that game (71.0) than he has in his previous three games. It's hard to envision his quality of play continuing this downward trajectory, but it is noteworthy enough to point out.
So has his shot at a Heisman disappeared?
He has work to do but I would not write him off just yet, especially since we are seeing improvement along the offensive line and from his receiving corps.
Obviously an appearance/victory in the PAC-12 Championship Game would help his cause. So would making better decisions and severely limiting his turnovers.
This guy has immense amounts of talent, we know that. Hell, he may be the number one overall draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. For now, though, let's just hope he can clean up his play enough to carry USC to through the rest of the season.
Do you think Sam Darnold still has a shot at winning the Heisman Trophy?
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