Max Browne, who won USC’s quarterback competition as the traditional pocket passer to Sam Darnold’s more mobile style, dropped back to pass early in Saturday’s game against Alabama, facing a third and long.
He waited, but nobody was open. He waited more. Then, he did something surprising. He took off and ran.
After Wednesday’s practice, recalling his first career start, Browne said the 17-yard scramble was probably different than what a lot of people expected from him.
“Myself included,” he said.
It was one of the few first downs USC managed against Alabama. It also peeled back another layer of Browne’s quarterbacking style. Coaches said Browne’s poise and decision-making was a bright spot in an ugly 52-6 loss. He controlled the offense, protected the ball (his one interception came on a dropped pass) and avoided mistakes. He could even run, when needed.
“Given the circumstances and given the competition he played against, he did an excellent job,” offensive coordinator Tee Martin said.
Browne completed his first seven passes and finished the game 14 for 29 for 101 yards. The completion rate was unimpressive, but several incompletions resulted from Browne’s throwing the ball away under heavy pressure. There were several more drops.
“It wasn’t always perfect,” Coach Clay Helton said. “But he made good decisions.”
Browne said he still needs to connect on his long strikes more often. He underthrew one pass, to JuJu Smith-Schuster, which resulted in a pass interference penalty on Alabama. Had he put enough air under it, Browne said, it would’ve been a touchdown.
Smith-Schuster, double-teamed for much of the game, finished with one reception. Browne said he failed to make the defense pay for that strategy.
“I put it upon myself to, if that’s the case, let’s make Darreus Rogers a household name,” Browne said. “But at the end of the day, it’s not like we’re just going to forget about [Smith-Schuster].”
Early exit for entrance
It all happened fast, safety Chris Hawkins said. Before the Alabama game, several teammates had discussed departing from the Trojans’ traditional pregame entrance. For years, the team has locked arms and swayed rhythmically as it enters the field. USC wanted to do something different.
Just perhaps not this different.
When the game came, Hawkins was among those leading the team out of the tunnel. All of a sudden, he said, he felt someone tug his shirt and push him to the ground. Next thing he knew, he and a few teammates were crawling, as if they were dogs waiting to be unleashed.
The antics did not go over well.
“You saw USC crawling out before the game and crawling back in after the game,” Kirk Herbstreit, who called the game on ABC, said, capturing one common opinion.
On Wednesday, Helton said that pregame performance would not continue. When Helton addressed the team Sunday, the entrance was one of many instances of sloppiness he called out.
“Good teams don’t worry about the pageantry of games,” he said. “They worry about doing their job.”
Helton explained that the players were “over-excited.”
Hawkins described the crawl as “super spontaneous,” though he noted that USC began the game with plenty of emotion, and even led, 3-0, after the first quarter.
Neither Hawkins nor Helton said if USC would return to its traditional entrance. But Hawkins said he’ll make a change for himself.
“I won’t be in the front anymore,” he said.
Center Toa Lobendahn, who injured his knee against Alabama, did not practice Wednesday, and Helton said his status for Saturday’s game against Utah State was uncertain. Lobendahn had fluid drained from his knee on Tuesday and underwent an MRI exam. Defensive tackle Noah Jefferson (shoulder sprain) did not practice and is “very questionable” for Saturday’s game, Helton said. … Defensive tackle Khaliel Rodgers (hamstring) did not practice. ... Receiver Deontay Burnett left practice with a shoulder sprain.