Week two of the college football season had some big match-ups, but none bigger for us West Coast people than the USC and Stanford. Both teams were looking to start the year 2-0 and to put an early stamp on the Pac-12 Conference race.
From the moment I entered the stadium you could feel the vibe in the building. The Trojan fans that were tailgating outside the stadium were throwing back the cold refreshments that were needed on a warm day in Los Angeles.
The flyover by the military plane lent its own “vibration” to the game and then the introduction of the USC Trojans got the crowd jacked up and ready to make life miserable for the Stanford Cardinal.
You know what else makes life miserable for the opposing team?
From the opening drive, Sam Darnold had a mission. The mission, if he chose to accept it, was to make the USC Trojans his team. Mission accomplished.
Darnold, a Heisman caliber player, took the first Trojan drive and engineered a 13 play, 80 yard drive and made it 7-0 USC. The crowd was certainly pleased with an opening drive touchdown after the previous week perceived struggles with Western Michigan.
Stanford is no slouch of a team. Some pre-season people even had Stanford getting in the college football playoff. The Cardinal pride themselves on being the more physical team that pounds their opposition into submission.
Stanford was bullied around on the USC opening drive.
The response was swift and hard.
Bryce Love of Stanford took twelve seconds to answer the bell. He took the handoff from Keller Chryst and ran through a huge hole on the left side of the line and 75 yards later was celebrating with his teammates in the end zone.
The air at the L.A. Coliseum was temporarily sucked out of the building.
Were the fans and media in for one of those Pac-12 games where the offenses got it going and defense was afterthought? Time would only tell.
On USC’s second possession, the Trojans went on another fairly long drive to score another touchdown. Once again, Sam Darnold put his mark on the drive.
Darnold completed passes of 4, 9, 19, and 30 yards on a nine play, 80 yard drive, that took 4:28. It also took the lead back for the Trojans at 14-7.
Sam Darnold looked confident and had his swag back. He is the epitome of a calm, cool quarterback, but behind all that calmness, is the heart of a competitive lion.
To show how zoned in Sam Darnold was on Saturday night, he came out and was 11-11 passing. He was throwing short, medium, and long strikes. The Trojan offense was clicking in general. The running game with Ronald Jones was gashing the Cardinal every chance he got and then Darnold was slicing up the Stanford defense. It appeared that the Trojans just might run away and hide.
Not so much.
Stanford was far from being intimidated by the crowd or the Trojans.
Keller Chryst brought the Cardinal down the field quickly. It took only 2:19 as Stanford went 54 yards in only 5 plays. Suddenly it was tied again at 14.
It was as if both teams were saying “your turn” every time the offenses took to the field.
By the time the halftime rolled around, the Trojans had a little more breathing room being up 28-17.
Sam Darnold imprint on the first half was pretty amazing. Darnold was 14-17, 225 yards, and threw three touchdowns.
The doubts that had crept into many Trojan fans about Darnold were erased by halftime. To the fans, their quarterback was back in a big way.
I must say, that the more I watch Sam Darnold play, the more I see a little Brett Favre in him. He has that gunslinger mentality. He believes he can make any throw and that has its positives as well as its negatives. The confidence he exudes with his teammates only gets better with every completed pass, touchdown pass, and every win the Trojans get under his leadership.
“I am aware that people are going to scrutinize me, and at the same time I have to continue to play.” Darnold mentioned after the game. (LA Times)
Clay Helton, who’s life is made easier with having a player of Darnold’s stature, is happy to see his quarterback playing so confidently.
“Great job by this guy, creating over and over and over,” Clay Helton said. (LA Times)
David Shaw, head coach of Stanford was also equally impressed by Sam Darnold.
“He made three big-time throws, throws that other guys don't make, and we give that to a great player.” Shaw said after the game. (LA Times)
Final stats for Sam Darnold: 21-26, 316 yards, and 4 touchdowns.
I think so.
In the end, the Trojans knew this was a big game and acted accordingly right from the starting whistle.
The Trojans walked off the Coliseum field with a 42-24 win and the rest of the Pac-12 was put on notice that the Trojans are looking to make life pitiful for them.