Darnold’s speed has its re­wards

Los Angeles Times - - COL­LEGE FOOT­BALL - By Zach Helfand zach.helfand@la­times.com Twit­ter: @zhelfand

USC tracks its play­ers with a GPS sys­tem, so af­ter the last three games, quar­ter­back Sam Darnold has made sure to look up an un­usual stat. He has looked for his max­i­mum speed.

Darnold reached 18 mph with one run against Ari­zona State three games ago. “Sam is show­ing peo­ple he’s a lot faster than peo­ple give him credit for,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Tee Martin said.

Re­porters be­gan ask­ing Darnold about his new­found quick­ness. Ev­ery time, he in­stinc­tively laughed — though Darnold can move well, he’s not known for top-end speed. But on Satur­day, he reached an­other peak.

“I was kid­ding with him to­day,” coach Clay Hel­ton said Tues­day. Darnold, Hel­ton said, “got up to 19.3 miles an hour on the GPS sys­tem. He said, ‘That’s about as fast as I’ve run since high school.’ ”

Darnold has daz­zled in his last six games with his arm, throw­ing for an av­er­age of 302 yards per game with a to­tal of 15 touch­downs and three in­ter­cep­tions. His surge as a passer has hap­pened at the same time as — and maybe be­cause of — an in­creas­ing will­ing­ness to run the ball.

Darnold’s run­ning sta­tis­tics re­main mod­est, par­tially be­cause his rush­ing fig­ures have been de­pressed by sacks. But he has made big plays with his legs. On Satur­day, he be­came the third USC quar­ter­back since 2000 to have a 300-yard pass­ing and 30-yard rush­ing game. Matt Barkley and Car­son Palmer also did it once.

On the speedy run against Ari­zona State, Darnold set a ca­reer high with a 39-yard scram­ble. Against Colorado, he scored on a 24-yard scram­ble, when he dis­played enough speed to peel away from a safety. “I saw a lit­tle open­ing and based on where the safety was I knew that he wasn’t go­ing to have an an­gle to be able to get to me, so I de­cided to make that cut,” Darnold said.

The 19.3-mph dash is a re­spectable fig­ure, es­pe­cially for a quar­ter­back. The NFL has more avail­able data on topend speed. The fastest ball­car­rier in the NFL this sea­son has been Leonard Four­nette, who ran 22.05 mph. No quar­ter­back cracked the top 20, mean­ing they ran 20.81 mph or slower.

Martin and Darnold at­trib­uted the run­ning to more man-to-man cov­er­age, which gives Darnold more space if he can get past the pass rush.

But it also un­der­lies a ten­dency of Darnold’s. Usu­ally, he throws only as well as he moves. “I thought he made some great de­ci­sions in re­ally the last six games us­ing his legs,” Hel­ton said.

He said Darnold’s de­creased in­ter­cep­tion to­tals were a re­sult of avoid­ing forced throws. In­stead, Hel­ton said, he’s of­ten just tucked the ball and run.

No move­ment

USC re­mained at No. 11 in the lat­est Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off rank­ings re­leased Tues­day. USC was one of two teams to not move up or down.

USC moved ahead of Wash­ing­ton and Texas Chris­tian af­ter both teams lost but was jumped by Ohio State, which de­feated Michi­gan State 48-3, and Penn State, which de­feated Rut­gers 35-6.

Kirby Ho­cutt, the com­mit­tee’s chair­man, said the com­mit­tee had ex­ten­sive dis­cus­sions about teams ranked No. 7 through 11, and said the teams were very close to one an­other. That in­cludes No. 7 Ge­or­gia, No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 9 Ohio State, No. 10 Penn State and No. 11 USC.

UT for Tee?

Martin was the last quar­ter­back to lead Ten­nessee to a na­tional cham­pi­onship.

Now Ten­nessee has a coach­ing va­cancy af­ter fir­ing Butch Jones on Sun­day. Brady Hoke has taken over as in­terim coach. Would Martin be in­ter­ested in the po­si­tion? “I look for­ward to UCLA on Satur­day night,” he said. “I look for­ward to that.”

Martin is­sued a more straight­for­ward an­swer when asked if he’d been con­tacted by the school. “I haven’t been con­tacted,” he said. “And I’m re­ally fo­cus­ing on UCLA.”

Quick hits

De­fen­sive end Rasheem Green (shoul­der in­jury), out­side line­backer Uchenna Nwosu (sprained an­kle), tight end Tyler Petite (sprained shoul­der) and kicker Chase McGrath (groin in­jury) did not prac­tice Tues­day. “Ex­pect­ing all of them to be ready by Satur­day,” Hel­ton said. … Corner­back Iman Mar­shall, who has missed the last three games, was a lim­ited par­tic­i­pant in prac­tice.

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