USC vs Arizona Report Card 2016: Grading the Trojan Offense

Oct 15, 2016; Tucson, AZ, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) hands off to USC Trojans running back Ronald Jones II (25) during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 15, 2016; Tucson, AZ, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) hands off to USC Trojans running back Ronald Jones II (25) during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

It was an offensive explosion for USC vs Arizona as the Trojans blasted the Wildcats with 48 points in a dominant performance.

A week after turnovers turned what should have been a comfortable victory into a nervy win, USC’s offense left nothing to chance against Arizona.

The Trojans racked up 48 points and 574 yards of total offense in Tucson, protecting the football with no giveaways while blasting the Wildcats in the first half.

Led by Sam Darnold and JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC completed their brightest offensive performance to date.

Here’s how each offensive unit graded out against the Wildcats:

Standout. Sam Darnold. QUARTERBACK. A-.

When USC made the switch to Darnold at quarterback, they were looking for a spark — or exactly what the redshirt freshman supplied them against Arizona.

Darnold threw for 235 yards, completing 62% of his passes and tossing five touchdowns. But it wasn’t his throwing which made the performance so impressive. In fact, the Trojan quarterback was at his worst when it came to the long ball, overshooting multiple receivers in the first half.

Instead, Darnold did the most damage with his legs, scrambling for 54 yards on six carries, five of which resulted in Trojan first downs.

The takeaway from Tucson? As Darnold goes, so goes USC. On Saturday, it showed.

Ronald Jones II. RUNNING BACK. A. . Standout

No Justin Davis? No problem.

Despite the loss of USC’s leading rusher to an ankle injury, the Trojans got all the contributions they needed from the duo of Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware, who gained 103 yards on 12 carries, including a 21-yard touchdown run for USC’s last score.

It was Ware who led the Trojans in rushing on the day, but Jones was the back supplying key rushing yards in the first half when it really mattered. He won’t get the headlines with 77 yards on 16 carries, but that efficient performance was reminiscent of Davis’ steady, if unspectacular efforts going back to last year. He also scored USC’s first touchdown of the day.

In garbage time, Dominic Davis also got the chance to shine, breaking off an 85-yard run.

A. . Standout. JuJu Smith-Schuster. RECEIVER

No one has benefited from Darnold’s elevation more than Smith-Schuster, who has found his groove again in 2016 with a third consecutive 100-yard outing. The junior had 132 yards on nine catches, three of which were USC touchdowns.

Smith-Schuster also supplied the highlight of the day at the second quarter neared an end. He looped around a defender, high-stepped down the sideline, then powered his way through more WIldcats to stretch just far enough to complete a 39-yard touchdown.

Of course, Smith-Schuster wasn’t the only receiver to help the Trojans on the day. Darreus Rogers caught five passes for 42 yards. De’Quan Hampton got involved with two catches, and could have had another long reception but for an uncalled hold and an overthrown pass from Darnold.

Deontay Burnett had just one catch, but he made it count, keeping his feet just inside the endzone on his comeback touchdown.

Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe’s lone reception was a leaping scoring grab which he just managed to tuck into his body for the touchdown. It was impressive enough to forgive him for short-arming a pass thrown his way later in the game.

Standout. Zach Banner. OFFENSIVE LINE. A.

Zach Banner returned after two weeks out with an ankle injury and the Trojans ran for more than 300 yards on the ground while giving up zero sacks.

Granted, the USC offensive line had been making great strides even without Banner in the line up. Still, having the captain back in the fold certainly didn’t hurt.

Jones, Ware and the running backs enjoyed clear running lanes, though there were the obligatory breakdowns on occasion.

Not only was Darnold’s jersey kept clean — in the backfield at least — the line gave him consistent time to throw and room to take advantage of open spaces with his legs. It was noticeable to see the quarterback able to scramble by choice, rather than for his life.

. Standout. Tee Martin. COACHING. A-

With every passing week, it becomes clearer and clearer that the troubles with USC’s offense early in the season were largely rooted in having a quarterback who truly fit the attack the Trojans wanted to deploy.

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Darnold noted after the game that Arizona’s tendency to keep their linebackers in a deep zone was something USC knew they could exploit and it worked to perfection. In fact, just about everything the Trojans set out to accomplish against the Wildcats worked.

There were no major playcalling missteps from Tee Martin whose offense looks more potent with each passing week, though one could nitpick USC’s goal line runs with Dominic Davis near the end of the game.

Of course, the biggest area of contention when it came to the offense was the injury to Smith-Schuster and the decision to leave USC’s starters on the field in the third quarter of a 41-7 contest.

The benefit of hindsight is strong when it comes to the argument that important players like Smith-Schuster should have been pulled earlier, but of the questionable coaching decisions debated at USC this season, this one doesn’t quite rank.