USC quarterback Sam Darnold hasn’t said whether he’ll play on Saturdays or Sundays next year. But he might want to consider staying home on Fridays.
Although the redshirt sophomore, a probable top-four pick in the NFL draft should he decide to turn pro, completed 26 passes for 356 yards in Friday’s 24-7 Cotton Bowl loss to Ohio State, he also committed three costly turnovers — two that led to Buckeyes touchdowns — and was sacked eight times.
“That quarterback, I have a lot of respect for him, but the best way to disrupt a quarterback is get after him. And we did,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
“I thought he was a warrior,” USC coach Clay Helton said of his quarterback. “To get off the ground that many times and make the plays that he did, he showed his true class and character.”
It was Darnold’s fourth start on a Friday in his two seasons at USC, and he lost three of them. In those four games combined, Darnold has thrown for only two touchdowns and completed less than 62% of his passes, well below his career average. He’s also committed six turnovers.
Playoff field is full
Ohio State’s exclusion from the four-team college football playoff this season has reignited debate over whether the current system is the best way to determine the national champion.
With Friday’s win, the Buckeyes’ third against a top-10 team, Ohio State will finish with at least 12 victories for the fifth time in six seasons under Meyer. But the Buckeyes were fifth in the most recent rankings, leaving them out of the playoffs in favor of 11-1 Alabama.
“We’ve been on the outside looking in twice, and we’ve been in twice,” Meyer said.
Still, the coach said, increasing the tournament field to eight teams isn’t practical.
“The thing to always keep in mind is there’s really one group who really counts and that’s the players,” he said. “You start extending this thing and you start to talk about adding one more game and it’s not just another game. It’s two sledgehammers going at each other.
“I don’t see where that calendar would work.”
Expanding the playoffs would mean starting the tournament earlier, before the Christmas holidays. And in many cases, that would conflict with final exams – USC’s fall semester, for example, concluded just days before the team left for Dallas.
Despite the huge national following both the Ohio State and USC football programs have, the schools have largely stayed out of each other’s backyards when recruiting.
One exception to that rule is guard Wyatt Davis, the grandson of NFL Hall of Famer Willie Davis and a five-star player out of Bellflower’s St. John Bosco High who signed with Ohio State in February.
“Wyatt Davis is a young man who came to play for us and is going to have great career for us, we anticipate, that just had some ties that he has always followed Ohio State,” Meyer said. “It has to be a unique situation to travel that far.
“To say we blanket the state of California, we don’t do that.”
As for Davis, it will be a while before Meyer can judge the success of that signing. The nation’s top-ranked player at his position and the only offensive lineman ever named top player in Southern California by The Times, Davis did not play a down in 2017 in what has become a redshirt season.
Ohio State’s young secondary was missing cornerback Denzel Ward, who decided Friday he would not play against USC, to protect himself for the NFL draft.
In his first season as a starter, Ward was a consensus All-American. The junior had practiced all week and Meyer said Thursday he expected that everyone on the roster would play, although Ward had told the coaching staff he was uncertain about his participation.
Sophomore Kendall Sheffield started in Ward’s place and made two big first-quarter plays, forcing a fumble to set up the first touchdown and breaking up a third-down pass.
Sheffield also had three tackles, one for a loss.
Former USC coach John Robinson is one of six people who will be inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place at AT&T Stadium in May.
Robinson, 82, who went 104-35-4 in two stints at USC, coached the Trojans to a lopsided win over Texas Tech in his only Cotton Bowl game in 1995.
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11