Sam Darnold delivered in the clutch (again) for USC, leading his team to a 27-24 win over Texas on Saturday in a thriller that ended on a Trojans field goal in the second overtime.
It was far from a perfect game by Darnold, but he made big plays in big moments down the stretch, and was seemingly unfazed by the pressure, completing 28-of-49 passes for 397 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. Darnold wasn't the only standout Saturday night, but as the most highly touted player on the field, I had my eye on him all game long. Here are five takeaways on the QB's performance:
1. I thought Darnold was the best QB in the country entering the game, and with the way he finished it, I feel emboldened in that opinion.
Now, I know he doesn't have the best stats of any QB in the country. He's thrown almost as many INTs as TDs (7 TDs, 6 INTs) this season, but numbers lie. At least 3 of his INTs were off tipped balls.
His team trailed by 3 points with 37 seconds remaining in regulation on Saturday night. That was a Houdini act by him to get out of the Coliseum with a win.
2. Darnold is ice cold ... in a good way. In the most important moments of the game, he's unfazed by it all. He has a calm about him that is rare.
I tweeted late in the game that I wanted to see Darnold in a position where he had to lead a comeback. He got the chance with a lot less time than I thought he would need to pull it off. He had 5-7 dropped passes by his receivers, took a lot of hits over the course of the game and was left for dead with 37 seconds remaining and his team down by 3. He led the team on a drive to tie it up and send it into OT. Then he delivered a TD strike on the first play in overtime.
That's what special players do.
3. He lives in the middle of the field. So many of Darnold's fellow college QBs live on the perimeter. Now, he'll throw some screens to the perimeter, but he attacks the middle of the field more than any college QB in the country. His incredible jump pass on the final drive of regulation and TD pass in overtime were both down the middle of field. Darnold does not play scared.
4. He has the patience of Job. Darnold's been plagued by drops in 2 of the 3 games USC has played this season (vs. Western Michigan and Texas) and I haven't seen him show up any of his WRs.
He has a true go-to WR in Deontay Burnett. They have a special chemistry, but I'm anxious to see two freshman -- Joseph Lewis IV and Tyler Vaughns -- get more involved in the passing game. They both flashed tonight and I think we should see more of them as the season progresses.
5. As for some areas where he needs to improve ... One of Darnold's 2 INTs Saturday night was his fault. He had a ball get away from him over the middle of the field and didn't get his feet set in the ground before making the throw on the pick. He's a great off-platform passer, but when he has some space, he could still work on being a little more consistent about getting his legs underneath him before he throws. Doing so will help him control the flight of the ball. The second issue I noticed: There were times in first half where he was looking to get out of the pocket when he didn't necessarily need to.
I think he self-corrected pretty quickly in both of those departments on Saturday, though. He made big throws with his feet underneath him and he maneuvered within the pocket down the stretch as he guided USC to the victory.