LOS ANGELES -- USC quarterback Sam Darnold set a bar that will be nearly impossible to reach.
The lasting memory he left the country during an eight-month offseason was one of the greatest performances in Rose Bowl history. As time passed, the legend grew. He was billed as a heavy favorite for the Heisman Trophy and to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. It’s why this week, in the wake of his so-so showing in the season opener against Western Michigan, Darnold was an easy target for criticism.
In a 42-24 win against No. 14 Stanford at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night, Darnold returned to his expected Heisman-caliber form.
Darnold was willing to admit how he played against Western Michigan last week was the worst showing of his career, but he also wasn’t concerned about bouncing back. Those games happen to everyone, he said. He moved on.
The redshirt sophomore connected on 21 of 26 passes for 316 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, while the Trojans piled up 623 yards of offense. It was the most yards Stanford has allowed in a game since David Shaw took over as head coach in 2011.
As good as Darnold was, it shouldn’t have come as any surprise. Overreactions are easy to make after the opening weekend in college football, and there really shouldn’t have been any long-term concerns about how he would play.
The more encouraging sign for USC might have been the production Darnold got around him. True freshman running back Stephen Carr (11 carries, 119 yards) and junior Ronald Jones II (23 carries, 116 yards) showed they have the potential to be one of the best one-two punches in the country. Deontay Burnett (nine catches, 121 yards) continues to build an impressive highlight reel, and Steven Mitchell Jr. (four catches, 94 yards), finally healthy, looked like the dependable No. 2 receiver the team needed.
When things click the way they did against what was expected to be a tough Stanford defense, USC will be a tough team to beat.