USC scrimmage offers no insights on looming QB decision

ESPN logo
Saturday, August 20, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- Southern California held its final scrimmage Friday, one day before it plans to name a starting quarterback.

Whether it changed or confirmed the decision about redshirt junior Max Browne or redshirt freshman Sam Darnold taking the first snap against defending national champion Alabama, no one would say.

Safety Chris Hawkins said the quarterback with the No. 4 on his jersey has the edge, which doesn't exactly help because Browne wears No. 4 and Darnold No. 14.

"Take it however y'all want to take it," Hawkins said.

Coach Clay Helton will meet with both quarterbacks and their families Saturday to inform them of his decision before announcing a starter via a statement in the afternoon. A formal depth chart could also be released at that time.

Browne had the better performance Friday, unofficially completing 13 of 22 passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions leading three scoring drives. Darnold was 10 of 19 with one touchdown and no interceptions, but a perfect 5 of 5 during a two-minute drill against the second-unit defense to conclude practice for his only scoring drive. Browne and Darnold worked equally between first- and second-team, apart from the two-minute drills.

Helton said it was one of the better offensive performances of training camp.

"Both quarterbacks did some nice things," Helton said. "I'm looking forward to watching the tap tonight and in the morning."

The final data point was essentially the reverse of Monday's scrimmage at the Coliseum when Darnold had the more impressive statistics and Browne salvaged the session with a perfect two-minute drill. As Helton pointed out, Browne and Darnold have made the decision on choosing a successor to three-year starter Cody Kessler difficult dating back to spring practices.

"I think that happens when you have elite quarterbacks competing at this high a level," Helton said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of them, the way they competed, but more importantly the camaraderie that they have had in the room and supporting each other and competing against each other. I thanked them today, how they have handled both camps, very proud of both of them and look forward to visiting with them tomorrow."

Helton will review film and consult with offensive coordinator Tee Martin, quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast for their input, but said the final decision would be his.

It isn't a choice Helton thought he would have to make when he was promoted to head coach last November. Browne arrived at USC as the top pro-style quarterback in his recruiting class and spent the last two seasons backing up Kessler. Darnold bucked the trend and didn't enroll early, spending last season running the scout team.

"I always knew Max being who he was ... You knew he would perform well. But to Sam's credit, just to be this good this fast is remarkable," Helton said.

"They push each other," Hawkins said. "If Max comes out and throws a 40-yard bomb, Sam comes out and does something amazing as well."

Linebacker Cameron Smith is glad he doesn't have to pick.

"I'd say it is pretty close, but that's all I can say," Smith said. "They got a tough one tonight."

Cornerback Adoree Jackson used the same line about jersey numbers as Hawkins, leading the safety to declare he came up with the joke. On a more serious note, Hawkins is optimistic about the quarterback position regardless of whether Browne or Darnold wins the job.

"But whoever it is I have confidence in both of the guys," Hawkins said. "I think they will get it done no matter what."