Well, the USC game last Friday was ugly. This game was right there for the taking for the USC Trojans, but instead they took a 30-27 loss to the Washington State Cougars. It was not there for the taking just because they were the favorites or because USC quarterback Sam Darnold is supposed to be the far superior quarterback.
Despite the two excellent quarterbacks in this game it was the defenses that set the tone for much of the contest. Both the Cougars and the Trojans struggled to put together extended drives to put points on the board for much of the first three quarters. Special teams for the Trojans continually pinned the Cougars deep in their own territory and the USC defense made huge stops or takeaways to give Darnold plenty of easy opportunities for points. Yet the offense still struggled having only two drives that were longer than 5 plays and scored points while frequently failing to turn great field position into touchdowns.
Darnold passed for 164 yards and an interception in his second game this season with no passing touchdowns. While he was able to find the end zone twice on the ground, he also racked up his eighth interception on the year, already just one short of last season’s total. The fans can look to blame the wide receiving corps or less than satisfactory pass blocking up front, but it may be time to face the music: Darnold may not be as good as advertised.
Yes, Darnold torched Stanford. But Stanford struggled to bring any pressure at all in the game and lacked a certain sense of urgency. Even in a spot where the game was all coming up USC, Darnold still threw two interceptions. Not to mention the fact that USC also ran for 300+ yards that game which should have made throwing the ball much easier for the Trojans.
This is not an attempt at a hot take merely for the sake of a hot take in order to get page clicks. This USC team has many, many failings beyond Darnold, but the Trojans are not being compensated, or perhaps bailed out, by elite quarterback play like last season.
The unfortunate part of this game was that it was right there, the Trojans had the game the way they wanted it. The defense was once again keeping the Trojans in the game despite injuries, a short week, and a unique offense like the air raid. The defense kept it close and once again the end of the game was put in Darnold’s hands in a situation he normally excels. Yet, Darnold did not get it done this time. While there is plenty of blame to go around, it is hard not to notice that Darnold looked quite human last Friday night.
Perhaps we have taken Darnold’s performance’s against Texas this season, or Penn State and Washington last season for granted and we just assume that a 20 year old kid will always put together a last minute drive to pull victory seemingly out of the jaws of defeat.
The biggest failing was anointing a 20-year-old the preseason Heisman trophy winner in a class that is loaded with talent at both quarterback and running back. This USC team has inconsistent wide receiver production beyond Deontay Burnett. They also have looked really good on the ground, but only for half their football games. This is not the same offense nor the same quarterback, which may be the problem nobody properly anticipated.
Darnold has looked uncomfortable in the USC offense - even in the big victories - and now has almost as many interceptions (8) as touchdowns (9). USC will need another star to step up and probably some help from the play callers to help bear the burden of winning and maybe even get things turned around before the year is over.