USC Football Preview: The weapons around Sam Darnold

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02: Quarterback Sam Darnold (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02: Quarterback Sam Darnold (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The wait is almost over. We are less than two weeks away from USC football’s opener at the Coliseum against Western Michigan on September 2nd. With all of the Trojans’ preseason hype surrounding QB Sam Darnold, let’s learn about the weapons around him who can help the sophomore become USC’s eighth Heisman Trophy winner.

Since the Rose Bowl, the name Sam Darnold has been on the mind of every college football media analyst, pro football scout, and football fans around the country. After leading the USC football Trojans to nine straight wins to close out the season, including the epic comeback against Penn State, expectations are through the roof for Darnold to live up to USC’s standard of greatness.

However, the nature of the quarterback position is that he is unable to be successful without talented players around him that he can deliver the ball to. USC has always been known to possess talent at the skill positions running deep through its depth chart, and with past scholarships sanctions being completed lifted, the Trojans are loaded but inexperienced.

In order for Sam Darnold to have space in the defense to throw perfect passes into, the Trojans will need to establish the running game. For the first time in almost a decade, USC will feature junior Ronald Jones II as its lead running back, and he is expected to get 25-30 carries per game.

Jones II blossomed last season to the tune of his first 2,000-yard season, 20 touchdowns, and over 100 yards against both Notre Dame and UCLA. His excellent vision and breakaway speed will be key for the Trojans to establish the run against Pac-12 defenses that have become known for excellent defensive line play. Coach Clay Helton has discussed Jones II’s improved pass-catching ability this Fall, which makes Jones II a complete tailback that the Trojans can trust on every down.

With the departure of wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster to the NFL, Sam Darnold will have to find a new favorite target. Clay Helton described this year’s Trojan receiving corp as “strength in numbers” because of their immense depth and lack of a true number one option like Smith-Schuster was last season.

The leading candidate for Darnold’s favorite target is probably Rose Bowl superstar and Compton native Deontay Burnett.

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Toward the end of last season, it was easy to see the chemistry forming between Burnett and Darnold, and it was obvious in the Rose Bowl that the two of them were on the same page.

The rest of the Trojan receiving corp consists of talented players without a lot of game experience. Senior Steven Mitchell will need to step up and be the leader of the group, while sophomore Michael Pittman has shown flashes of Dwayne Jarret-esque potential in Fall camp with his 6’4″ frame. Coach Helton has liked what he’s seen from converted QB Jalen Greene in addition to redshirt freshman Velus Jones Jr.

With all of the depth at wide receiver, you can’t forget about every TV commentator’s worst nightmare, sophomore tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe. He showed flashes of brilliance toward the end of last season, using his broad shoulders to clear space and make catches in tight areas. He’ll be the featured tight end this season along with junior Tyler Petite.

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The USC football Trojans have holes to replace when it comes to skill positions, but Sam Darnold’s elite distribution ability will empower the players around him. Trojan fans can look forward to watching an exciting offense that should force opponents to pick their poison.