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WeAreSC Roundtable: Quarterback Change

WeAreSC staffers give their thoughts on the quarterback switch that was announced this week by Clay Helton, with Max Browne being replaced as the starter by Sam Darnold.

Garry Paskwietz

The timing of the move surprised me but the reality is that the only way to judge it will be to see the results.

I didn’t feel like Max Browne was at the top of the list of issues with the USC offense so far this season but the perception is that he is being made the scapegoat. Clay Helton has tried to make it clear that isn’t the case after the offense scored only one touchdown in the two games against Alabama and Stanford, but that simply isn’t the way the vast majority of people are seeing it.

Sam Darnold may very well end up being a terrific starting quarterback for the Trojans, in fact I would bet that way because he has some unique skills. And while I don’t think the timing was right to do it, the move has been made and so now we get to see Sam get his opportunity beginning on Friday in Utah. If we start to see progress in the offense in the coming weeks (against lesser opponents than what has been faced so far) then the move will definitely be seen in a more justified light. In order for that to happen, however, there will also need to be improved play calling rhythm, a commitment to an identity, more consistent play from the o-line, etc. And none of those things have anything to do with Max Browne.

Good luck Sam.

Johnny Curren

While I definitely don’t think that Browne is to blame for the Trojans’ offensive woes by any stretch of the imagination, I do agree with making the move to Darnold at this time.  I’ve seen enough of Browne to know that in the right system, and with the right personnel around him, he could put up some big numbers, and that’s what makes all of this frustrating. As a veteran leader who has done everything that anyone has asked of him, this isn’t totally fair to him, but that’s the nature of the beast in college football.

Darnold has shown off some unique playmaking skills in practice since the spring, and when you combine that with his mobility, I think that he might be able to create some positive plays even when everything around him isn’t necessarily going right – which seems to be happening quite a bit. That will hopefully help provide the “spark” that Helton says that he is looking for.

I am curious to see how the team reacts to all of this given the fact that Browne is a captain and established leader. That being said, Darnold has certainly grown in that regard as well over the the last eight months, and if he finds success early, I believe the team will rally behind him.

Without some improvement up front along the offensive line, however, as well as some signs of growth in terms of the development of an offensive identity and in regard to playcalling, that will be a challenge, even with Darnold’s unique skill set.

Greg Katz

I think that Clay Helton did the absolutely right thing in moving Sam Darnold to the starting quarterback position. The Trojans need a quarterback that can add some mobility, explosiveness, and a quick release. That being said, I don’t think that Max Browne did anything that in reality was a poor performance in three games, two of which came at the hands of the two of the best defenses in the country.

To be bluntly honest, the playcalling and identity of the offense leaves a lot to be desired, and that falls completely on the laps of Clay Helton and offensive coordinator Tee Martin. It wasn’t Max Browne’s fault that the scoring drive to start the second half of the Stanford game was run oriented and then the next series started with three straight passes. Scratch your head on that one and go figure. If the weather is playable on Friday night in Utah, I think Darnold could make some big plays, but the bigger issue will be the playcalling at this point. The quarterback card has now been played.


Well . . . I’ve only got three words regarding this QB change:

It better work.

First, I don’t agree with the change.

The QB position is not where I see the majority of problems occurring.  The offensive line’s false start penalties and missed blocking assignments are killing offensive drives.

In addition, the lack of consistency in play calling philosophy has SC unable to string together productive drives within a quarter or half.

Max Browne has not been perfect . . . but these issues are not his problems.

But now that Coach Helton is making this change in search of a spark for the Trojan offense, the move better manifest on the field in the form of play calls that take advantage of what everyone says Sam Darnold brings to the table – the ability to run the ball.

So if SC is looking to give the opposing defenses a different look and more to prepare for . . . then that has to be reflected in Darnold’s decisions to run the ball 5 – 10 times to keep the Utah defense off-balance.

Ultimately, this change puts Coach Helton under an even hotter microscope. The first year of a coach’s tenure is often the most difficult as they seek to change a culture and establish a new identity. The fans and media are not patient during this process, and we even saw that in Pete Carroll’s tenure.

But what a coach must do is hold on to their core philosophy and keep believing and developing the players. A change after only three games (including two top 10 teams) calls into question whether the head coach has a philosophy and believes in the players at all.

So this decision to remove the starting QB and a captain of the team puts the morale of the players and the respect they have for Helton directly in the crosshairs.

The question has to be:  “Does he really believe in us or is he just throwing darts at a board?”

That’s why I say this move has to work.

Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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