In this edition of the WeAreSC Roundtable we discuss the Trojan quarterback competition with a decision looming this weekend by head coach Clay Helton.
This has been a very competitive quarterback battle, probably the tightest we’ve seen since Matt Leinart edged out Matt Cassel for the opportunity to replace Carson Palmer. And just to remind you of how hard these can be to call, if you would have polled the media at the end of spring ball that year the majority would have projected Cassel as the starter.
With that being said, I still think Max Browne gets the nod by Clay Helton this weekend. Helton has long maintained that Browne had the edge over Sam Darnold even if that edge seemed to get smaller as the competition waged on. Darnold has definitely kept the pressure on and there’s little doubt about his long-term potential, he can be a good QB for the Trojans. But so can Max. The one thing Max hasn’t done yet, however, is close the door on Sam but I also don’t think Sam has done enough to clearly overtake Max in my mind. Helton may see it differently but that’s the way I see it after watching spring ball, summer workouts and fall camp.
I do think the results of what has transpired over summer and fall camp has validated Helton’s decision not to name a starter at the end of spring, but there is no more putting the decision off. Helton has made clear he will announce a starter on Sunday so we won’t have to wait much longer to get an answer.
Right now the thing that stands out most to me is just how close this race is. I honestly thought that by now one of the two competitors would have separated themselves a bit, but it’s apparent that Clay Helton and Co. are going to have a really tough decision on their hands. Every time Sam Darnold puts together a couple solid practice sessions, Max Browne comes back with a couple of his own – and vice-versa.
I’ve been impressed with Sam Darnold’s playmaking ability – both with his arm as well as his legs. With Browne, it’s his poise in the pocket and command of the offense that has caught my attention. With all of that said, I’d give Browne the slight edge at this point – for those strengths that I pointed out, as well as the fact that he’s really emerged as a team leader over the course of the last six months.
In any case, I definitely believe that Helton made the right decision to extend this competition on through fall camp. I think it’s forced Browne and Darnold to continually push each, so that in the end the Trojans will have a quality starter regardless of who it is that wins the battle. I don’t foresee the Trojans rotating the two passers, but if the eventual winner does struggle early on, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the runner-up get a shot.
I think what has made this long competition fascinating are the two, distinct different styles of grad student Max Browne, the pure pocket passer, and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold, the run-pass threat with lethal mobility. I think both have shown an upside, and quite honestly, if Max Browne hadn’t paid his dues waiting the past three seasons for his shot, Darnold, the more dynamic and explosive player, may well have been named by the starter by Clay Helton, However, since the competition has gone back and forth since spring and Browne has patiently waited his turn, I believe that Max has earned the right to be the starter or at least start the game against Alabama. However, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest that whoever starts against the Crimson Tide is no guarantee to continue to start the rest of the way. So, Browne will get his shot and it will be up to him to be productive and hold onto the job. No question, however, Sam Darnold is a special player and will be more than ready while waiting in the wings.
We have a real horse race here between red-shirt junior Max Browne and red-shirt freshman Sam Darnold.
Throughout Fall Camp, each guy has shown why they could be the starter. Browne’s experience shows with his command of the huddle and within the pocket. While Darnold has caught on to the offense quickly, and has shown he can throw the ball and escape the pocket to make plays with his legs.
I like the way Coach Helton has handled the competition, letting the players do the talking with their performance. He could have easily given the job to the guy who has been at SC the longest, and everyone would have understood. But the transparency Helton has displayed with the players, public, and media, sends the message that competition matters at every position.
Now for the hard part – choosing a guy. And that must happen near the end of training camp. Indecision going into the season at that position is no way to start the year. A starter at QB should be chosen (not a platoon situation), with the caveat that poor performance would lead to a change and an opportunity for the other player.
So after all of the film evaluation, completion percentage and ratio calculations within practice and the scrimmages, only one question remains . . . who gives the team the best chance to win?
If that decision had to be made today, I think the starter would be Max Browne.