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UCLA at Southern Cal Offensive Preview: Who Really is the Better Quarterback?

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Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold are pretty even in the QB stats department. The cast around them is what makes the difference.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold are both in the Top 10 for passing yards this season, and only about 100 yards separates them (I’d bet Rosen would be ranked higher if he hadn’t missed a game and a half). Are Rosen’s stats reflective of a team that has a struggling run game, or is he the real captain of the Bruin offense? Darnold has a better line to protect him, so would Rosen be in the Heisman race if the five guys in front of him gave him more protection?

Saturday’s game is always a toss up if you ask me (see: 13-9), but then we can also get blown out (see: 50-0). Both teams usually take the field with their hair on fire, however, last year’s game was anticlimactic and with Rosen out, didn’t seem to mean a whole lot to either side.

But this year, both QB’s are present and healthy. Southern Cal’s entire offense is stacked with upperclassmen, experience, and depth. Let’s look at the Second Choice offense and see what we’re up against.

Quarterback

Sam Darnold, is without question, an extremely talented athlete. If you remember, he was Max Browne’s back up, until it became painfully obvious that Darnold was the better choice. He is completing 63% of his passes, and averages over 8 yards per pass. He has also rushed for four touchdowns, and has not seen much of a drop off on production as we get further into the season. He peaked at Stanford with an 80% completion percentage, but completed almost 77% of his passes two weeks ago against Arizona. With the way our defense has been giving up yards, it will be no different this weekend. Unfortunately, until his injury, we were seeing a drop off in production from Rosen. He looked better last week, so he’ll need to ride that momentum into Saturday to see success against the Southern Cal defense. Darnold, as it happens, hails from the same high school as Nick Pasquale, and wears a red bracelet to commemorate his passing. You can read the full story here.

Offensive Line

Losing veterans Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner after the 2016 season was definitely a challenge for the Trojans, not necessarily because the talent left behind was subpar, but because depth on the line could prove to be an issue. This became glaringly apparent when guard Viane Talamaivao, tackle Toa Lobendahn, and Chuma Edoga went down and the Trojans had to play two freshmen. Andrew Voorhees and Austin Jackson stepped in to fill the void, and helped the team defeat both Washington State and Utah. The veterans are back in action, flanking center Nico Falah, so this front five is one of the best and most experienced the Bruins have seen all year. They beat the heck out of Stanford’s defense, making hold for their rushers to rack up 307 yards. Stanford did not record a single tackle for loss against Southern Cal, and they only had one sack. This group plays physical and will be a huge challenge for our guys up front. Play action will be on the docket, as well as the talented feet of Ronald Jones II.

Running Backs

Ronald Jones II is the choice for most of Darnold’s handoffs, as he has 184 carries for 1,224 yards so far this year. He leads the team with 14 touchdowns (the only person who has more is Darnold), including an 86 yard breakout run for a TD in their loss to Washington State. Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai and Aca’Cedric Ware have all carried the pigskin quite a bit, so this unit is not hurting for depth or talent. Jones is basically considered the second coming of Marcus Allen and is going to give our defense major trouble. We have had so much trouble stopping the run that Darnold will almost have no reason to throw. This has been the biggest area of weakness for our defense, and I totally anticipate the Trojans hanging a few hundred rushing yards on us.

Wide Receivers

This unit was somewhat suspect for 2017 after losing JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rogers, DeQuan Hampton, and Issac Whitney. They combined for over 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016, but the losses led to competition and a new depth chart. Darnold has spread his passes to 18 different teammates, with Deontay Burnett leading the pack with 69 receptions for 911 yards. He had originally committed to Washington State back in 2015, but had planned on signing with ASU in a surprise twist on National Signing Day that year. At the last minute, Southern Cal called him with a scholarship offer, which is how Burnett went from Cougar to Sun Devil to Trojan. He was only a three-star prospect out of high school, but has clearly earned his number one roster spot this year, after he carved out his own place among Trojan legends when he caught Darnold’s game-tying touchdown throw late in the fourth quarter of last January’s Rose Bowl. Additionally, the Trojans have a new weapon this year in Tyler Vaughns, who has tallied 627 yards of his own. He’s a redshirt freshman, so he’ll be giving us trouble for years to come. After watching our secondary get burned a few times last week against ASU, it might get even worse this weekend. Our guys downfield aren’t necessarily our biggest problem, but we need to be able to defend these guys, play the ball, and not rack up pass interference penalties.

Analysis

Well, as I said, anything can happen. But our defense is going to have a really hard time stopping these guys. We have good momentum going after getting some good stops against the Sun Devils last week, so maybe we’ll finally hit a stride on defense late in the season. Rivalry Week, baby!

Go Bruins!