Can Sam Darnold Be USC’s Tim Tebow?

USC quarterback Sam Darnold against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
USC quarterback Sam Darnold against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /

Max Browne is USC’s starting quarterback. But could the Trojans be preparing to use Sam Darnold in a role Tim Tebow made famous?

USC football coach Clay Helton made the decision to name Max Browne his starting quarterback over the weekend, but didn’t exactly shut the door on using redshirt freshman Sam Darnold in 2016.

“Though we will not rotate quarterbacks, we do envision using Sam’s unique athletic skill set for special situations throughout games this season,” Helton said in a press release.

What exactly does that entail? The Trojans remain mum on the specifics, as they prepare to face the defending national champions Alabama next week.

But don’t think for a second that it’s entirely a secret.

“Reading between the lines, I’m sure we’ll have some sort of package to use his running abilities,” Browne said Tuesday after practice.

Darnold took it a step further, insinuating that he could be used on short-yardage plays, including opportunities at the goal line.

Tebow became the star of a championship team he didn’t even start for.

Finding any way possible to get a talented, big-framed quarterback on the field is not a unique idea in college football. It’s a damned good one.

Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators famously utilized true freshman Tim Tebow as a short-yardage quarterback in 2006, on their way to winning a national title.

Despite firmly being behind senior starting quarterback Chris Leak, Tebow accounted for 13 touchdowns as a red zone threat –eight with his legs– and carried the ball 89 times for 469 yards.

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It was iconic, and whether Tebow was developing his trademarked jump pass or scampering into the end zone, he became the star of a championship team he didn’t even start for.

Five years later, Oklahoma took the idea a step further with Blake Bell, a massive 6-foot-6, 254-pound quarterback who now plays tight end for the 49ers.

The Sooners would line him up in power shotgun sets, flanked by a pair of blockers typically seen in wildcat formations.

The strength in numbers made it virtually indefensible.

In a two-year stretch between 2011 and 2012, Bell scored an absurd 24 rushing touchdowns on just 103 rushing attempts.

That includes his a freshman season in which he didn’t see considerable use until the eighth game of the year, and still wound up scoring 13 times, with 59 percent of his carries resulting in a first down or touchdown.

Could Darnold be that freakishly successful?

Perhaps not entirely, given that he’s not the specimen of Bell, who was nicknmaed ‘The Belldozer’ and ran the ball like a tall fullback.

At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Darnold is more physically comparable to Tebow, save for a couple of cheeseburgers.

But what he lacks in beef, he makes up for in his arm. Add in the versatility of redshirt sophomore wide receiver and converted quarterback Jalen Greene, and USC has an endless amount of wrinkles to consider, short-yardage or not.

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“The opportunity to get a good athlete in in certain situations is advantageous for us,” Helton said.

The task comes down to how to manage one additional weapon, without it being a deterrent to the arsenal.

That’s been a problem for the Trojans the past few seasons. They’ve been inconsistent with gadget plays, only seeing them out so far, and ultimately relying on them at importune times.

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For every shovel pass to Adoree’ Jackson that goes for a touchdown, there’s a botched two-point conversion with Tre Madden in the wildcat.

For every double pass from Greene to JuJu Smith-Schuster, there’s a failed fourth down attempt with Marqise Lee lined up as a wing back.

So with great power [running] comes great responsibility for offensive coordinator Tee Martin. But given the remarkable success of Tebow and Bell, you can’t help but wonder how successful the Trojans could be by thinking outside of the box.

MUST READ: Game By Game Predictions for USC in 2016

And, perhaps its fitting that the first deployment of the Sam Darnold goal line attack could be against Alabama, the same team famously worn down by Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham, one of the most iconic goal line runners in college football history.

Maybe this was the divine plan all along.

“We’ll see on the 3rd,” Martin said with a smile Tuesday evening.