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Darnold wins game, Rosen wins QB battle in UCLA-USC


LOS ANGELES -- NFL scouts had Saturday's UCLA-USC game circled on the calendar all the way back in the summer. We knew back then that the matchup between Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen would be must-see viewing for league evaluators, and I was there, along with reps from 20 NFL teams, to watch arguably the top 2 quarterbacks in college football in person.

Both QBs really struggled to establish a rhythm on Saturday, but Darnold's Trojans came out on top, 28-23.

Here are 5 takeaways on Darnold and Rosen after watching them in the most anticipated QB matchup of the season.

1. Darnold won the game Saturday, but Rosen won the QB battle. On this night, Rosen (32 of 52 for 421 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) was clearly the more impressive guy. Rosen showed everything as a passer that a scout would want to see. He showed deep-ball touch, drive velocity and toughness inside the pocket. It seems weird to say this because there weren't a lot of points in this game, but Rosen put on somewhat of a QB clinic on Saturday.

No matter where scouts stood on Rosen coming into this game, I think they probably left with a stronger impression of what he can do.

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2. I still view Darnold as the better prospect. I came into this game thinking both Darnold and Rosen are really good players, but I had Darnold ranked ahead of Rosen. I'm not going to change where I stand on that topic based off a single viewing of this game.

I still saw a lot of good things from Darnold, even though his stat line was not impressive (17 of 28 for 264 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT; 1 rushing TD). He made some special tight-window throws and showed off his ability to extend plays with his mobility. Rosen's more polished. Darnold's more of a playmaker. The game Saturday reinforced those things about each QB.

3. Both of these QBs are far from perfect. For Darnold, his decision making has to improve. He threw a pick, adding to his FBS lead in turnovers (19 total) and his lack of awareness on a run at end of the first half cost USC a chance to put points on the board. He was way too frenetic in the first half, bailing out of several clean pockets. In those situations, he needs to stick his cleats in the ground, work through his progression and deliver the ball. Darnold had played better in the past month after some struggles early in the season, but Saturday was a little bit of a step back for him. It was an uneven performance.

In Rosen's case, he also has to do a better job of protecting the ball. He turned ball over twice in the red zone, with an interception and a fumble. However, it's hard to fault him for those mistakes since he wasn't given much time to throw by his pass protection.

4. Darnold and Rosen were the focus this week, but the most impressive physical specimen among QB prospects wasn't playing on Saturday. That title belongs to Wyoming's Josh Allen, who didn't play for the Cowboys on Saturday after injuring his shoulder last week. I was talking to an NFL exec at the UCLA-USC game and he said if you want to judge a QB based on who looks best in warmups, Allen is the best he's seen and it's not even close. When it comes to size and arm strength, Allen is still the leader of the pack.

5. There were a few NFL QBs that came to mind when I watched the Pac-12 QBs go head to head on Saturday. I've compared Rosen to Eli Manning in the past, but on Saturday I saw Matt Ryan with a little bit more arm strength when I watched the UCLA star. I still see some of Tony Romo in Darnold's style of play.

That being said, Darnold's had some great moments this year, but he still hasn't shown anything close to the magic he had in the Rose Bowl against Penn State last season. He still has two games to show it this season with the Pac-12 championship game and a bowl game to go. Rosen needs to lead UCLA to a win next week against Cal to become bowl eligible. I'm anxious to see how both of these QBs finish off the 2017 season.

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.



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