Sam Darnold jogged out to the field during the fourth quarter of USC’s game against Stanford on Saturday. USC had just attempted a fourth-down try, in the red zone. Had it been successful, Darnold was ready to assume his role as the red-zone quarterback.
It came up short. Darnold unclipped his helmet and jogged off.
Darnold did not appear in USC’s 27-10 loss to Stanford until late in the fourth quarter, when USC was down 17 points. USC had the ball in the red zone just once. The Trojans opted for a quick tempo and kept the starter, Max Browne, in the game.
The lack of red-zone opportunities made Saturday a departure from USC’s strategy in the first two games, when the Trojans used Darnold liberally throughout the game.
“That’s how we practice out here,” Coach Clay Helton said during the week. “Six reps for one guy, four with the other. Knowing that when it’s your opportunity, make the most of it.”
Darnold finished five for seven for 45 yards and an interception.
Browne threw for 191 yards, completing 18 of 28 passes.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said several conference schools have approached him to discuss playing a football game in China. That’s included USC, he said.
“I’ve actually been tapping the brakes on it a little bit,” Scott said during halftime of Saturday’s game.
Scott also said that he hasn’t received much negative feedback after USC’s 11 a.m. kickoff against Utah State last week. The conference has experimented with the unusually early start time to reduce the number of late-night games it must schedule.
“I think fans understand,” Scott said.
Stanford Stadium has a capacity of 50,000. When it is full, it is seldom ear-splittingly loud. It was less than full on Saturday.
Still, the Trojans were whistled for six false-start penalties, four in the first quarter alone.
In that quarter, USC outgained Stanford and averaged 7.6 yards per play. But Stanford led, largely thanks to the penalties.
Failure to launch
In its first two games, USC had just five plays for 20 yards or more — three passes and two runs.
Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey crosses the goal line with a touchdown reception in the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Trojans receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster can’t make the catch over Stanford’s Alijah Holder during the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster recovers a fumble by teamate Tyler Petite (not pictured) in front of Stanford safety Zach Hoffpauir in the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Stanford fans cheer after Christian McCaffrey scored a touchdown against USC.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns manges to complete a pass despite defensive pressure from USC’s Uchenna Nwasu, left, and Porter Gustin.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Stanford wide receiver Michael Rector gets past USC’s Malik Dorton for a 56-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
USC’s Chris Hawkins’ diving attempt can’t stop Stanford wide receiver Michael Rector on a 56-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (2) prevents Stanford receiver Michael Rector from making a catch in the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns picks up big yards as USC linebacker Uchenna Nwasu tumbles to the turf.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Coach Clay Helton reacts after the Trojans turned the ball over on downs to the Cardinal late in the game.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
USC managed three against Stanford — two passes to tight end Tyler Petite and one to receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Not much JuJu
Smith-Schuster had another quiet evening. He finished with three receptions for 34 yards.
Browne did not target him very frequently, but Smith-Schuster did have opportunities. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Browne lobbed a would-be 27-yard touchdown pass to Smith-Schuster, who could not make a one-handed catch, after a defender appeared to be holding his free arm.
Defensive tackle Noah Jefferson (shoulder sprain) did not play. … Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson made his first interception of the season, and the second of his career.