Freshman quarterback helped save USC's season

LOS ANGELES >> Sam Darnold caught Justin Davis off guard.

Before USC lined up for a play early in the fourth quarter of a season-shifting, 26-13 upset of fourth-ranked Washington in November, Darnold took the senior running back aside.

The sellout Husky Stadium crowd was roaring. Davis was filling in on the series for Ronald Jones, the breakout sophomore who had rushed for almost 400 yards in his past two games.

“Don’t miss a beat, JD,” Darnold spurred him on, stressing they could not afford a drop-off. The margin remained too tight.

It was Davis’ first game in a month because of a high ankle sprain, a time span, it turns out, that allowed redshirt freshman Darnold, who had starred at San Clemente High, to settle into his role as the Trojans’ starting quarterback.

The last time the two players had shared the backfield was during Darnold’s third start. The newfound assertiveness from the normally stoic passer struck him.

“Oh, wow,” Davis shot back, “you really are the man.”

Recalling the exchange a month later, Davis smiled and shook his head.

“He’s a freshman saying that to me, and I’m a senior,” he said. “That let me know this dude is the real deal.”

Darnold delivered a masterful performance on the mid-40 degree night in Seattle. Against the undefeated Huskies, he completed 70 percent of his passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. And the more difficult the throws became, the more precise he was. According to the analytics…

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