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Tuls | Darnold and explosive running game propel USC past Stanford

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Scouting Notes

Tuls | Darnold and explosive running game propel USC past Stanford

#14 Stanford Cardinal vs #6 USC Trojans

09/09/2017

Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA

Score:  Stanford (24), USC (42)

Notable Prospects Entering the Contest

USC Trojans 

Sam Darnold, QB (Redshirt Sophomore) 

Darnold needed a bounce-back performance from last week. He did so on Saturday night against arguably his biggest test of the season against the Stanford Cardinal. Completing his first 11 pass attempts, Darnold sliced and diced his way through the Stanford secondary for chunks of yards. On the last drive of the first half, he had three consecutive throws that may be the best you’ll see from a quarterback prospect on a single possession. He did throw two interceptions, but both of them were because of his unrefined lower half. Darnold does not reset his feet often because of his gunslinger mentality, and with this lack of balance, he is essentially throwing with just the top-half of his body. Many downgrade Darnold for his “lack of arm strength,” but it is the fact that he does not use his lower half to help him drive through with these throws. This is why these passes were intercepted, in conjunction with poor decision making. While he did have his lows in this game, the big takeaway is that Darnold showed the nation on primetime why he is considered to be an elite quarterback prospect. Stock: Same

Ronald Jones II, RB (Junior)

When is Ronald Jones II going to get the hype he deserves? Everybody talks about Derrius Guice and Saquon Barkley as the top tier of 2018 running back prospects, while leaving off Jones. This needs to stop. With another 116 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, Jones showed the explosiveness, power and vision of a top-tier running back. The problem with someone like Jones is that you have no idea how to stop him. Many believed he was just a scat back who would rather not invite contact, but that is asinine. He can run over or around defenders, and I believe he prefers the former. If you go back and watch every run Jones has carried the football this season, please show me a play where he is not running angry. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Stock: Up

Porter Gustin, EDGE (Junior)

Porter Gustin played a much better game on Saturday night than he did against Chukwuma Okorafor and the Western Michigan Broncos. He showed his ability to convert speed to power on multiple occasions, pushing back Stanford’s tackles at will. Because he is more of a linear athlete, Gustin is not going to bend around the corner like his teammate Uchenna Nwosu, but he is a handful each time he lines up across somebody. While he consistently pressured the quarterback tonight, his performance did not change anything we already knew about his skill set. Stock: Same

Uchenna Nwosu, EDGE (Senior)

There is no other way to say this: Uchenna Nwosu was the best defensive player in the game for either team on Saturday night. That is saying something, considering the talent on both sides. Not only was he able to consistently win the corner and bend around the edge seamlessly while rushing the passer, but he also used this smooth athleticism to deflect multiple passes at the LOS as well. Another aspect of his pass rush portfolio that we have not yet seen from Gustin this season is a killer inside move. Nwosu has already abused both Western Michigan and Stanford with inside counters and speed off of the edge. In addition, he sets the edge well in the run game and hustles until the whistle blows. I have a serious draft crash on Nwosu just for his competitive toughness alone. Get on the hype train while you can. Stock: Up

Cameron Smith, ILB (Junior)

Cameron Smith started out slow against the Cardinal, failing to properly fill and clog running lanes that Bryce Love took advantage of. After the first two drives, Smith seemed to flip a switch however. It was reminiscent of Bruce Banner transforming into the Incredible Hulk. Once that happened, it seemed like Smith had the Stanford play call in his helmet before the snap with how quickly he exploded in the backfield each play. Call this instincts or sheer processing quickness, but the bottom line is that Cameron Smith is a bonafide stud. The reason why I cannot put his stock as “up” is because it cannot go higher. I am all in on the junior USC linebacker. Stock: Same

Iman Marshall, CB (Junior) 

I have some mixed feelings on Iman Marshall’s performance Saturday night. For starters, he got away with a ton of penalties pertaining to his overwhelming physicality. Usually this is a plus for big cornerbacks like Marshall, but he was way too handsy from the beginning. Yet, the referees did not throw the yellow hankie his direction. Call this luck, but he would never be able to get away with this type of contact in the watchdog NFL. Nonetheless, he was glued to the hip pocket of Stanford’s receivers, even on the play where Arcega-Whiteside made an unreal touchdown catch along the sideline. Stock: Same

Stanford Cardinal 

Keller Chryst, QB (Redshirt Junior) 

15/28, 172 yards and two touchdowns does not sound like a sexy stat line, but Keller Chryst played much better than I expected against an athletic USC pass defense. I was especially impressed with the ball placement on some of his throws. Stanford seems hesitant to cutting Chryst loose with his arm talent on deep balls, but he made the most of his performance, even in an 18-point defeat. Stock: Same

Bryce Love, RB (Junior)

Bryce Love has all-world speed, and he showed that on Saturday with multiple huge runs, accumulating 144 rushing yards at halftime. The difference, for me, was seeing Love patiently waiting for the play to develop before exploding through the hole for a big gain. A lot of the speed demons in college football do not run with enough nuance, but Love is wired differently. If Stanford can involve Love more in the passing game, his draft stock will go even higher. Stock: Up

Harrison Phillips, DT (Senior) 

Stanford allowed USC to run for a total of 307 yards. While this does not look good on the surface for defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, he had some shining moments in this game. On the first couple of drives, it looked as if nobody could block him. He was too quick and too powerful. Once USC started doubling him, that is when you started to Phillips disappear. His pass rush potential is intriguing, but I’m still not sure if he is a true nose or under tackle at the next level, in that he is something in between. Stock: Same

Quenton Meeks, CB (Junior) 

I was really excited to watch Quenton Meeks go up against the Trojans on Saturday night, but Darnold just did not test his side of the field at all. There were two plays, a slant and a comeback, where Meeks allowed a catch, but other than those two minimal gains, he gave up little to no separation. Even when he was not targeted, you could still see his reactionary quickness at the LOS in Press and on in-breaking routes in off man coverage. Consider this a wash performance because of the lack of a true sample size. Stock: Same

Alijah Holder, CB (Senior) 

Like Iman Marshall, I have mixed feelings about Alijah Holder’s performance Saturday night. He had a beautiful interception while in Cover 3, showing off his range and closing speed to tip a pass to himself after covering significant ground in a short amount of time. Other than that sole play however, I saw Holder stuck on blocks, mostly due to his lack of play strength and frame size. I also saw Holder inexplicably let a receiver get behind him in the end zone, which Darnold took advantage of immediately. I don’t know if there was a coverage breakdown where he thought he was playing Zone when he was actually playing Man or vice versa, but that should not happen. What we already knew about Holder was showcased in this game. Stock: Same

Other Players that Flashed

USC’s Stephen Carr, RB (Freshman)

Is there a more explosive running back in the nation than USC true freshman Stephen Carr? Some are insanely talented, but none possess the juice that Carr brings to the table. On just 11 carries, Carr racked up 119 yards with a staggering 10.8 yards per carry mark. He proved yet again that USC has the best running back duo and tandem in all of college football.

USC’s Deontay Burnett, WR (Junior)

Deontay Burnett struck again with 121 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions. He is the yards-after-catch king with his ability to run away from defenders and make them miss with nifty quickness. His one-handed catch was also a nice touch on his performance that should show up on the highlight tapes. Burnett is a budding superstar growing as Sam Darnold’s top target.

Stanford’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR (Junior)

If there was one Stanford receiver I wanted to see coming into this game, it was Trenton Irwin. However, that narrative quickly shifted when JJ Arcega-Whiteside started making plays out of nowhere. The stat line only shows four catches for 67 yards, but his acrobatic catches in this game is what people will remember him for. His circus catch against Iman Marshall along the sideline with a subsequent Allen Iverson stare down was one of the highlights of college football this weekend, plain and simple.

Best Players on the Field

USC’s Sam Darnold, QB (Redshirt Sophomore)

USC’s Ronald Jones II, RB (Junior)

USC’s Stephen Carr, RB (Freshman)

USC’s Uchenna Nwosu, EDGE (Senior)

USC’s Cameron Smith, LB (Junior)

Stanford’s Bryce Love, RB (Junior)

Forgettable Performances

The Stanford front seven (Allowed 307 yards on the ground)

Stanford’s Peter Kalambayi, LB (Redshirt Senior)

Jonah Tuls

Tuls is one of the lead NFL Draft analysts for Draftbreakdown.com and has been a key contributor to several other NFL Draft sites in recent years. At Draftbreakdown, Tuls provides macro-oriented NFL Draft coverage, including comprehensive player rankings, mock drafts and big boards for the site. Tuls has worked with some of the NDT Scouting staff previously before; he worked with National Scout Jon Ledyard to form the core of USA Today’s Draft Wire site for the 2016 NFL Draft season. His work there was centered around draft reports, with additional analysis and breaking news efforts as well.

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