The Trojans are fresh off their first conference title in 9 years…and I do mean fresh, as they had a bye week prior to their 31-28 win over Stanford.
USC quarterback Sam Darnold improved his record as a starter to 20-3 with that victory. Plus, he notched his 11th career game with 300 or more yards passing.
Those numbers help explain why the 6’4″, 200-pound signal caller won the 2016 Archie Griffin Award at the Touchdown Club in Columbus.
Without receivers Ju Ju Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers, Darnold’s stats actually dipped slightly in 2017.
His redshirt sophomore season, however, has still been impressive. Darnold has 3,787 yards and 26 touchdowns. His completion percentage stands at 63.7 percent, but it’s 69.9 percent against teams ranked in the Associated Press poll. He’s thrown 12 interceptions. Only four of those happened after September. And he’s tied with Ohio State’s JT Barrett (among others) for 25th nationally in passes of 40+ yards.
USC has balanced their pass game with the running of Ronald Jones II, who is riding his second straight 1,000-yard season. He’s been incredibly consistent, averaging 6.1 yards per carry this season and last, and that has him as one of the top rushers in school history. The four players ranked ahead of him are all Heisman winners, or Heisman runners-up.
All in all, this has the Trojans scoring 34.5 points per game. If they have one weakness on offense, it is that they have given up 22 sacks this season.
On defense, it’s been high risk, high reward for the men of Troy. They’re one of the top teams in the country in sacks, and have four players who have brought down the opposing quarterback at least six times.
They have forced eight fumbles, while grabbing 16 interceptions.
However, they are also 77th nationally in total defense. They are 118th in giving up chunk plays of 20+ yards. Finally, they have sometimes struggled against mobile quarterbacks. Both Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush (106) and Arizona’s Khalil Tate (161) gouged the USC defense for 100 yards or more.
When things are going well on defense, the Trjoans are paced by Butkus Award semifinalist Cameron Smith; sacks-leader Rasheem Green; First-Team All-Pac 12 defensive back Marvell Tell, Jr.; as well as senior linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, who has 43 solo tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 13 passes broken up, and a fumble recovery.
One last note on USC? They have blocked four kicks this year.
Ohio State plays the Trojans in the Cotton Bowl December 29th at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.