Western Michigan Broncos vs #4 USC Trojans
Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Score: Western Michigan (31), USC (49)
Notable Prospects Entering the Contest
Sam Darnold, QB (Redshirt Sophomore)
While Darnold did not play horrible, he did not live up to the preseason hype that surrounded him. With two poorly-thrown interceptions, USC relied on the run game to survive an early rally from the Western Michigan Broncos. The first interception was thrown way behind his tight end, which was tipped into the lap of Darius Phillips. On the second interception, he threw an ill-advised jump ball that was incredibly picked off by junior Sam Beal along the sideline. Darnold did have some bright moments however. He looked extremely poised and collected in the pocket, unfazed by pressure throughout the game. If you take away the two interceptions, Darnold’s game looks a lot better. Nonetheless, he played just an average game against a defense that he should have had a field day against. Stock: Down
Ronald Jones II, RB (Junior)
Because of Sam Darnold’s relatively lackluster play, the run game needed to be at its best for the Trojans. Ronald Jones II answered that call. With three touchdowns, Jones showed incredible agility, explosiveness and balance on each of his runs. In fact, I wrote in my notes that on each play Jones touched the ball, it had the potential to be a touchdown because of his home run ability. Jones reasserted himself as one of the top running back prospects in the potential 2018 class with his performance against Western Michigan. Stock: Up
Porter Gustin, EDGE (Junior)
Porter Gustin did have a sack late in the game on the opposite side of Chukwuma Okorafor in addition to a pressure on the first drive against the highly touted left tackle, but other than those two plays, it was a forgettable night for Gustin. He got washed in the run game on several occasions not only by Okorafor, but also by the tight end. He did get around Okorafor with his speed around the edge on the first drive, but he was shut down by the 6’6 left tackle all game. In addition, he blatantly missed a pick six opportunity on a Western Michigan double pass that ended up in end zone. Why was this bad? It was bad because he was essentially the last line of defense, and he needed to make that play. Gustin came into this game hyped as one of the top edge defenders in the country, but I walked out feeling underwhelmed afterwards. Stock: Down
Rasheem Green, DT (Junior)
Green was able to be disruptive in spurts as a pass rusher early on, but he simply disappeared in the first half as a run defender. The narrative flipped in the second half as he dominated the line of scrimmage in the run game, but failed to register a pressure in the second half. I knew coming into this game that Green had all of the tools necessary to be a star, but I also knew he would be a work-in-progress because of his inconsistent flashes. Nothing changed after his performance against Western Michigan. Stock: Same
Cameron Smith, ILB (Junior)
The difference of play for the USC defense when Cameron Smith returned in the second half from his suspension cannot be explained enough. Simply put it, Smith was the reason why the Trojans escaped an early-season scare from the Western Michigan Broncos. Early in the first half, where Smith was suspended because of a targeting penalty in the Rose Bowl against Penn State, Western Michigan was able to run all over the USC front seven. In fact, I would consider it almost a bloodbath. However, Smith’s presence in the second half was contagious, as the Western Michigan run game was irrelevant for the rest of the game, excluding a big run by LeVante Bellamy. I said it in the Preseason All-Draft Eligible piece done by the NDT Scouting staff that he is the most instinctive linebacker in the nation, as I voted him on the first team. It was almost as if he heard Western Michigan’s plays in his helmet before the snap with how fast his processing speed was. Stock: Up
Iman Marshall, CB (Junior)
Iman Marshall dropped two interceptions and had a brutal pass interference penalty that kept a Western Michigan drive alive, but his play did not move the needle for his draft stock either way. Stock: Same
Chukwuma Okorafor, OT (Senior)
After a poor opening drive where he allowed Porter Gustin to get around him for a near sack, Okorafor pitched a shutout. This was evident as he shut down the speed of both Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu. He also showcased his strength at the point of attack, overwhelming USC’s defensive line with his power. The big day on the ground for the Broncos was in large part due to Okorafor’s play. With his size at 6’6, 330, Okorafor is going to be an interesting prospect to study going forward considering the steps he took forward on Saturday. Stock: Up
Darius Phillips, CB (Senior)
Phillips came into this game as the highly touted cornerback for the Broncos defense, but it was teammate Sam Beal who really stole the show. That is not to say Phillips played poorly though. In fact, Phillips came down with an interception after a tipped pass thrown behind the tight end. However, this interception landed in his lap and did not move the needle for his draft stock. Instead, it was his incredible kick return touchdown that put his name on the map. This was his fourth career kickoff return touchdown, and he lived up to his status as 2016 MAC special teams player of the year. Stock: Up
Other Players that Flashed
Western Michigan’s Sam Beal, CB (Junior): Looks the part physically at 6’1, 185, ran stride for stride with the USC wide receivers in man coverage throughout the game. This included a pass breakup and an incredible interception along the sideline. He was arguably the Broncos’ best player on both sides of the ball, if not both teams, with his play on the boundary, putting his name squarely on the radar.
Western Michigan’s Eric Assoua, EDGE (Junior): Gave USC fits all game with his quickness and athleticism off of the edge, attaining one sack, a couple tackles for a loss and multiple pressures. Asserted himself early on as Western Michigan’s best pass rusher.
USC’s John Houston Jr., ILB (Redshirt Sophomore): Was able to make a touchdown-saving pass deflection in the end zone with his back to the ball in man coverage. On this play he showed good top-end speed and athleticism to carry the receiver vertically. The very next play, Houston filled the hole for a TFL. Of all the defensive players who filled in for Cameron Smith’s first half suspension, Houston was the one who stepped up.
USC’s Deontay Burnett, WR (Junior): Stepped as the “alpha dog” weapon for quarterback Sam Darnold, especially in the second half with explosiveness after the catch and a couple of diving catches. The wide receiver group as a whole was disappointing in the first half because of several drops, but Burnett’s play quickly turned that narrative around.
USC’s Stephen Carr, RB (Freshman): With two touchdowns on the day, Carr literally exploded on the scene. His shifty running style followed by a boost of speed to zoom past the defense is what will make him a valuable asset going forward for the Trojans.
USC’s Marvell Tell, FS (Junior): Marvell Tell was consistently around the ball on Saturday, racking up a pick six and a fumble recovery that was soon called back. Many wondered who would help Iman Marshall fill the voids of the USC secondary, and with his performance against Western Michigan, it looks like Tell has taken that step forward.
Best Players on the Field
USC’s Cameron Smith, ILB (Junior)
USC’s Ronald Jones II, RB (Junior)
USC’s Deontay Burnett, WR (Junior)
Western Michigan’s Chukwuma Okorafor, OT (Senior)
Western Michigan’s Sam Beal, CB (Junior)
USC’s Sam Darnold, QB (Redshirt Sophomore)
USC’s Porter Gustin, EDGE (Junior)