Darnold leads talented, super hyped, Trojans

USC closed out last season with nine straight wins, and they’re returning their star QB. So let’s take a look at the runaway favorite for the South division title.

Advertisements

Photo Credit: San Clemente Times

Coming off of a 10-3 (7-2) Rose Bowl winning campaign, the Trojans are the runaway favorite to win the Pac-12 South division title. The hype is understandable because of the returning talent that will be available to head coach Clay Helton and his staff this upcoming season.

In 2016 the Trojans 1-3 start included a blowout loss to Alabama, a sloppy loss to Stanford, and narrow four-point loss to Utah; but USC responded by running off nine straight wins, including a back and forth victory over Penn State. The wins that the Trojan’s wheeled off during the regular season were absolutely dominating, especially the upset victory in Seattle. That upset win at Husky Stadium was the proving ground for Helton’s team and it was the national coming out party for quarterback Sam Darnold.

Darnold took over as the starting quarterback prior to that tumultus loss at Utah. After some struggles getting used to the pace of the game early on, but he quickly picked up the pace and began to show off why USC’s coaching staff was so high on them. His arm added another dimension to the offense which saw it score over 40 points in a four of the team’s last nine games (including the bowl victory).

Heading into 2017, a lot of the hype rides on the ability of Darnold to take another step forward. His development is going to be crucial if the Trojans offense is going to provide the necessary firepower to win the South and help the program win its first Pac-12 title in nine years.

Defensive stats and preview

Yards Per Play Touchdowns Per Game Pac-12 Rank
Rushing 4.05 1.2 3rd
Passing 6.7 1.8 5th

The defensive line was the Trojan’s biggest strength a year ago, as they were simply larger human beings than the majority of their opponents’ offensive lines. Because of their size, SC’s defensive line was able to generate pressure on the quarterback without too much help from the linebackers or secondaries. While the defensive line was able to generate pressure on its own, the secondary wasn’t effective at shutting down the pass…despite having Adoree Jackson last season.

Credit: Packernet

The closing speed that Jackson displayed in that .GIF is absolutely insane and it’s hard to see how the Trojans’ defense will overcome his loss, especially when you take into consideration how the defense was consistently exposed by passers that had life in their arms. Without Jackson, Southern California’s defensive backfield is a glaring weakness that could really hurt the team as it moves throughout its schedule.

On the defensive line, there is a bunch of returners that played snaps in 2016…but none of them really stood out as future starters. As a result, the Trojans are (probably) going to be running out a six man rotation that features Kenny Bigelow, Josh Fatu and Christian Rector; the only starting role that is settled on the defensive line is Rasheem Green. So it’ll be interesting to see how the rotation shakes out during the non-conference schedule and the early parts of conference play.

This defensive unit is the biggest question mark for USC is going to be its defensive unit. With the loss of the secondaries best player and the questions surrounding the rotation that is going to be used at the defensive line, it’s fair to expect this unit to struggle early and often in 2017. But if the Trojans’ defense is able to live up to its talent level — and the new starters fill in the holes by those who have left/graduated — then this unit could take some major steps forward from 2017.

Offensive stats and preview

Yards Per Play Touchdowns Per Game Pac-12 Rank
Rushing 5.16 1.4 6th
Passing 7.8 2.5 3rd

Sam Darnold’s explosive arm was a huge boon for the Trojans offense last season, and he helped stabilize the most important position on the offensive side of the ball. And he spent the majority of last season showing off some of his talent, but we also saw how raw that talent is. One of his biggest problems last season was his tendency to rush plays and make off balance throws, take a look at this play from early in the Rose Bowl.

Credit: RealGM

Darnold didn’t give the play time to develop and he reacted to the pocket collapsing, so he just got rid of the ball; even though there was a lot of space to his right he could have used to buy some more time. Heading into 2017, the sophomore quarterback is also going to have to develop a better sense of when to get rid of the ball vs. when to move the pocket and extend the play. It was a weakness of his last year that stalled out several drives; and with the glaring weaknesses in the Trojans’ defense, they can’t afford to have offensive drives stall out due to a rushed decision from Darnold.

That sixth sense, about when to move the pocket or get rid of the ball, is going to be crucial for Darnold this season; because the offensive line doesn’t seem to have any of its starting rolls nailed down. Chris Brown seemed to have the left guard spot nailed down at the end of last season, but the coaching staff moved him over to right tackle…a position he struggled with during spring ball and so far during fall camp. So it will be interesting to see how the offensive line gels and grows during the first few games of the season as they won’t get too many breaks.

The receiving corps is going to have a hard time replacing JuJu Smith-Schuster, but they should still be a productive unit for Southern California. Four-star recruits Tyler Vaughns, Josh Imatorbhebhe and Trevon Sidney all redshirted last season, which will means that there is a ton of athletic talent for Darnold to target this season…even if it takes them a few games to get used to college football.

Schedule

In three of their first four games, the Trojans will get to face programs that are debuting new head coaches — Western Michigan, Texas, and Cal. Between those two non-conference programs, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Broncos put up a more of fight, especially early on, because they won’t be learning a new offense or defense — despite the coaching change. Whereas Texas is bringing new offensive and defensive schemes along with its new head coach, which could lead to some chaos and poor play…especially in the early part of their schedule.

The last non-conference game USC plays is against Notre Dame, and the fighting Irish haven’t given us a lot of reason to think they’ll be significantly improved from where they were last year.

As for conference play, Southern California is fortunate to miss Washington, but gets to face Stanford in only the second game of the season — which will be an early test for the offensive and defensive lines. The secondary also going to get an early test with the Friday night game in Pullman, Wash. against the Cougars and their Air Raid offense. But then the conference slate is pretty calm, as the Trojans only other opponents from the North are Oregon State and Cal — both programs are rebuilding; as for the South, Utah and Colorado will be young, but talented; while UCLA is just…UCLA.

Saturday
Sep. 2
Broncos Western Michigan Broncos 
LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
2:15pm PT
Pac-12N
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 9
Cardinal Stanford Cardinal 
LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
5:30pm PT
FOX
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 16
Longhorns Texas Longhorns 
LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
5:30pm PT
FOX
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 23
Golden Bears at California Golden Bears 
California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Friday
Sep. 29
Cougars at Washington State Cougars 
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
7:30pm PT
ESPN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 7
Beavers Oregon State Beavers 
LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 14
Utes Utah Utes 
LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 21
Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Fighting Irish 
Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN
4:30pm PT
NBC
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 28
Sun Devils at Arizona State Sun Devils 
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 4
Wildcats Arizona Wildcats 
LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 11
Buffaloes at Colorado Buffaloes 
Folsom Field, Boulder, CO
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 18
Bruins UCLA Bruins 
LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 25
OFF

Prediction

USC shouldn’t have any problems dispatching Western Michigan or Texas — Western Michigan doesn’t have the horses and Texas has too many glaring deficiencies on defense to keep up — but Stanford’s relatively powerful offensive and defensive lines will be too much for the Trojans to handle and they’ll lose a close defensive battle. Cal’s new offensive scheme will take some time getting used, and give the Trojans’ defense an excellent chance to lick its wounds after a physical game the week before; while Darnold and his wideouts will pick apart the Golden Bears defense for an easy win.

WSU quarterback Luke Falk will pick apart the Trojans secondary, but the Cougar defense won’t be able to generate pressure on Darnold and Southern California will leave the Palouse with a shootout victory that’s closer than most people think. Oregon State catches the USC napping between the explosive game against the Cougs and the upcoming battle with Utah for Southern California’s second loss of the season; but after that I don’t see any game that should really be too much of a problem for USC.

The Bruins are only in the second year of their offense and Colorado is a talented but young roster that should have their hands full trying to keep up with the Darnold led offense. So USC will finish the season with six straight wins (10-2, 7-2) and the South Division title.

In the Pac-12 title game, the Trojans weaknesses in the trenches will be exposed by Washington and the Huskies will win their second straight conference title by a couple of possessions. Because of the ten regular season wins, and their reputation, Southern California will end up in one of the former BCS bowl games.

  1. USC wins Neil, I can’t accept UW going to a second straight playoff lol!

    1. Me either dude, but the PAC looks fairly weak this season

  2. I only saw the Rose Bowl last year, but I have USC in my Playoffs and Darnold going to NY for the Heisman… not sure if he’ll take it back to L.A. though. Nonetheless, great things coming for the Trojans in my mind

    1. Darnold is only a sophomore so he’s still got a year left.

      The o-line and d-line issues are a concern to me.

      1. Agreed, and like you said a small sample size by winning 9 straight against a very weak PAC 12.

  3. […] to open up its season against Rice, then a bye week before its first major test against USC. The Trojans are going to be tough this year, but they’re beatable if Chryst is healthy and can work through his reads quickly. After the […]

Comments are closed.

Sports Thoughts

Predictions and reactions to your favorite sports

FootballFemme

A Site For All Things Fantasy Football

Basketball Greatness

Home of Basketball News and Updates

Blogging With Andy

Sports, Iowa & More

Dome and Bedlam

Baseball somethings from baseball nobodies

Sports with Neil and friends

Hawt sports taeks for the people

Year of the Teen

A teen's humorous pursuit of self betterment

The Big Lead

Sports News and Media

Dubsism

What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions

stadium nerd

A fine WordPress.com site

%d bloggers like this: