USC turns to redshirt freshman Sam Darnold as new starting QB

ByKyle Bonagura ESPN logo
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- USC is making a change at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold will start against Utah on Friday, supplanting junior Max Browne, coach Clay Helton announced Monday.

"The way [Browne] competed and performed was more than honorable, but the realism of football is -- is when you're 1-2 and you've scored one touchdown against Alabama and Stanford," Helton said. "I want to see a spark in our offense, and I hope that Sam can bring that. I'm confident in it after watching three games of watching him perform, seeing him in the arena and seeing what he can do."

Helton informed both quarterbacks Sunday night and told the rest of the team during meetings Monday. It was clear the change was coming before the announcement was made, however, because Darnold took a majority of the first-team snaps in practice.

Browne, who is in his fourth year with the program, was named the starter two weeks before the season started after a lengthy competition with Darnold. In three games, he completed 55 of 87 passes for 474 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions.

In three games off the bench, Darnold completed 14 of 22 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

"I was stoked about it," Darnold said. "I was stoked to finally get that opportunity."

Browne made it clear he does not expect to regain the starting job.

"I know how these things work," he said. "Usually, once the young guy goes, you know how it is. I'll be ready. I owe it to my teammates and the guys I've been with four years now. I owe it to them to stay ready, and I'll be ready. I'll be ready at a moment's notice."

Browne has graduated and will almost certainly transfer when the season is over.

"You think about it right away," Browne said. "You think about all the possibilities at hand, but at the end of the day, it's only Week 4. There is a lot of ball to play, and so I'll stay ready."

Browne was the No. 2-ranked pocket passer in the Class of 2013 and the No. 20 overall player in the ESPN300. He enrolled in the spring of 2013, redshirted that season and spent the past two years backing up Cody Kessler.

Despite the change, Helton believes he made the correct call in letting Browne have the first crack at the starting job.

"I'll never doubt my decision," he said. "I'll never regret going with that young man, Max Browne, to start off with. He's a man of utmost character and talent. I will never regret doing that, but I also have to make really, really tough decisions being the head coach and doing what's best for your football team."

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