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Ledyard | Five things we learned from scouting #13 USC Trojans vs. Utah Utes

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Scouting Notes

Ledyard | Five things we learned from scouting #13 USC Trojans vs. Utah Utes

#13 USC Trojans v Utah Utes

Saturday, October 14, 2017, 8:00 p.m. ET

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – Los Angeles, CA

USC (28), Utah (27)

1. Sam Darnold thoughts

We’re halfway through Darnold’s redshirt sophomore season, and the results have clearly been a mixed bag. He makes some poor decisions, he’s mechanically messy and his accuracy can be all over the place. But there are some undeniable strengths about Darnold that make him a very interesting prospect. He’s terrific off-platform, showing the ability to manipulate the pocket, keep his eyes downfield and make high degree of difficulty throws despite pressure. Darnold is fearless in the face of a blitz, and has exceptional mental processing to continue to work progressions and accelerate his internal clock when he knows time could be limited. Some of that stuff is hard to teach quarterbacks, and he’s able to do it really well.

Darnold has all of the mental traits you want in a quarterback prospect, including the toughness to rebound from mistakes and not lose any aggressiveness as a passer because of previous errors. He plays under control and with exceptional poise in all situations, and has been an excellent leader for USC. I think he has the arm talent to make all the throws, and while the inconsistencies are too great right now for me to get behind Darnold as an obvious top overall pick, his upside is very high.

2. Ronald Jones is ridiculous

We’ve got to start seriously talking about Ronald Jones as a first round back. I need to really study him to see how he would run in a zone-heavy scheme, but he’s such a decisive runner in USC’s offensive attack, slashing downhill with an exceptional burst and breakaway speed. Jones finished with 17 carries for 111 yards, many of which came after first contact. He’s not the bulkiest back, but he runs with great toughness and balance to keep his feet and fight for every yard despite taking shots. Few players in the country have improved their stock as much as the twitched-up runner from USC has this season.

3. Deontay Burnett continues to rise up boards

Burnett didn’t practice all week while dealing with a toe injury, but was nevertheless outstanding on Saturday night, catching eight passes for 99 yards. Plenty of those grabs were tough ones outside his frame or over the middle, where Burnett got clobbered after picking up a huge first down for USC on one of their second half scoring drives. Burnett has been a human highlight reel of outstanding grabs this season, and continues to display athleticism at the catch point and the awareness to be a difference maker after the catch. He’s slight of frame, but his athleticism may make up for it.

4. Uchenna Nwosu stepping up

When Porter Gustin went down with an injury, there was legitimate concern about the USC pass rush. Nwosu has helped answer the call to a degree, racking up pressures and batting down passes constantly with his quickness off the edge. He’s not a truly refined pass rusher, but he is a high effort player who has intriguing athleticism that coaches will want to develop. The senior needs to do a better job of finishing sacks he’s in position for, but his progress has been encouraging for USC this season.

He’s not the only Trojan impressing up front. Junior Rasheem Green has tremendous size and strength for the position, picking up a sack last night to end a potential Utah touchdown drive. Redshirt sophomore Chris Rector has been outstanding as well this season, notching two sacks last night to give him 6.5 on the season. If Gustin is able to return this season, that USC front is going to be tough for anyone to handle.

5. Utah safety Marquise Blair a missile

I have to throw something in here about a Utah player, and even though I wasn’t too blown away with their heralded defensive line in this game, safety Marquise Blair continues to intrigue me. He’s a huge hitter who will come downhill against the run and send messages with hits in his coverage zone. He played the catch point well on a couple throws (I think it was him, replay wasn’t always clear), and although it is impossible to glean a full perspective on any defensive back without All-22 tape, the 6-2, 190-pound is definitely on my radar.

Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard has been writing about the NFL draft for several years now, and is thrilled to be bringing creative content and unique analysis to NDT Scouting. He lives with his wife Brittany and four-month old daughter Caylee in mid-western Pennsylvania. Jon is also the host of the Locked on NFL Draft and Breaking the Plane podcasts, while covering the Steelers for scout.com. The Office, LOST, weightlifting, ultimate frisbee, grilling, Duke basketball, and all Pittsburgh pro sports teams are his greatest passions.

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