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Darnold, USC Lose Their Grip

September 29th, 2017 · No Comments · College football, USC

Elite college football programs are allowed one pratfall in the national-championship chase.

USC’s Trojans just took theirs.

Heisman Trophy candidates can maybe — maybe —  get away with one stinker and still aspire to pick up that famous trophy in New York.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold just had his forgettable game.

It was already Saturday on this side of the Atlantic (5 a.m., actually) when I caught up to USC at Washington State, and after a few minutes of watching closely it wasn’t just the score (WSU 20-17) that looked dire for the Trojans … it was how unsteady Darnold looked at quarterback.

Darnold reminded me of Jim Everett, circa 1989, the nervous and fearful Rams quarterback who had the infamous phantom sack in the NFC title game. And that is never good.

Darnold apparently is (or was) a Heisman candidate. USC likes to think it has someone in the running, more often than not, and Darnold is the man this season after finishing last season strong.

But by the middle of the third quarter, he looked like a guy who was looking for a way out of the pocket even before the ball was snapped. Just like Everett, in 1989.

Darnold can, perhaps, be excused for looking gun shy because three of his interior linemen were missing through injury, as were two starting receivers, and Washington State’s defenders were getting into the USC backfield in a hurry — and Darnold clearly was looking for the exit, play after play.

The team should have shifted to a short-passing game, with three-step drops for Darnold, allowing him to get rid of the ball and perhaps keep his eyes downfield (rather than across the line).

When the Trojans went down 27-20 in the fourth quarter, I was sure they were done, but Darnold came up with his best bit of the game, converting a fourth-and-13 (just before he was knocked over) and a pass to the 1 on the next play. He jogged into the end zone for the tying TD.

Washington State kicked a field goal and USC took over at the 25 with 100 seconds left, and I didn’t care that Darnold has a reputation for last-gasp victories because he seemed so shaky in this one and was without so many of his first-team comrades.

On second down, he failed to see a linebacker coming (untouched) on a blitz, and as he tried to escape it looked as if he was hoping to throw an incomplete pass, but the way the ball came loose it looked like a fumble, and that was the call, and that was the game.

Darnold completed 15-of-29 for 164 yards and an interception and he wasn’t the best quarterback on the field (that was unbeaten WSU’s Luke Falk), let alone the country — showing again how every quarterback who ever lived cannot impress without a lot of talented teammates and many of Darnold’s were hurt.

USC is 4-1 and will fall probably about 10 spots in the polls, and the climb back up to to the top four, and a game in the national semifinals will be a long and hard slog, but the Trojans will need to win out if they want to play against Clemson and Alabama, et al, and the Pac-12 has a batch of good teams USC still has to face.

Anyway, even given what we know to be a sliver of hope, this team doesn’t look like it has what it takes to get the Trojans anywhere near a national title. And Darnold? Well, there’s always the NFL.





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