When the Trojans face the Ducks Saturday afternoon in Eugene the key to victory will likely be how well the USC defense handles Oregon's dynamic quarterback Vernon Adams.
Adams is a true dual-threat quarterback who can make plays with his arm and his legs. To help prepare for a mobile signal caller who can take off and run at any time, USC has called upon true freshman quarterback Sam Darnold.
During service team periods at practice this week Darnold donned a black No. 3 jersey and did his best Vernon Adams impersonation. He was tasked with running the service team offense, trying to give the starting USC defense a good look of what they can expect from Adams and the Oregon offense.
“It’s fun [playing Vernon Adams]," Darnold said. "It’s just keeping the defense on their toes and trying to make plays out there. I’ve got to be Vernon for the week. He’s athletic as heck, that’s the biggest thing.”
Being a dual-threat quarterback himself, Darnold was the perfect choice to impersonate Adams. But there is more to running the service team offense than pretending to be the quarterback.
“As the service team, we go in there, watch film on Oregon’s offense, see their tendencies, and also what they try to do with the teams that have a similar defense to ours," he said. "We see what they try to do scheme-wise and we try to mirror that. It’s actually really interesting because I never experienced that in high school. So we try and mirror what they do to a defense like ours and it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun, but it’s serious too. You’ve got to get your defense prepared.
"I really think the service team, the guys that are on the offensive line, receivers, and running backs, I think they’ve done a great job, obviously the past couple of weeks with our defense performing as well as they have.”
By now Darnold should be used to quarterback impersonations since he has run the service team offense for all 10 of USC's games this season. Each quarterback is different, giving Darnold a unique challenge each and every week.
“For example, when I’m Jared Goff they try to make me not scramble that much," Darnold said. "But when I’m Vernon they want me to run around a little bit and make some plays. Not that Jared Goff can’t make plays, but he doesn’t run around as much. They want me to try and do that, and when I do run around they’re like, ‘Hey, you can’t do that you’re Jared Goff.' I can be looser when I’m playing Vernon Adams.”
Darnold's job is to give the defense a good look, which includes letting them know when they give up a first down.
“If I make a big play I’m going to celebrate just like Vernon would do," he said. "He’s going to get up all in their face. They definitely get on me like, ‘You can’t celebrate and stuff, we’re trying to get better out here.’ It’s a good time and that’s my job right now, just to get the defense better as the scout team quarterback.”
After those big plays Darnold likes to talk a little trash, but only to specific players.
“I don’t talk trash to Adoree’ [Jackson], I’m not there yet," he said. "When Cam [Smith] was out here I used to talk trash to him all the time. I miss that kid man, great player, sad to see him go down obviously. But yeah I used to talk to Cam [Smith] all the time like if I made a 10 yard run, I would just run back to the huddle and say, ‘You suck Cam,’ but it’s just fun stuff. I also love to mess with Porter [Gustin] because he’s so serious all the time, it’s fun.”
Even though his entire freshman season has been spent running other team's offenses, Darnold feels that it is has helped him develop as a quarterback.
“I think it helps going against such a good defensive line, with the pass rush and the DBs obviously. That definitely helps with all the pressure in my face so hopefully as a starter I won’t have as much pressure and that way I’ll be a little more comfortable."
Stay tuned to USCFootball.com for more updates on the Trojan football team as they prepare for the Oregon Ducks.
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Ryan Abraham has been the publisher of USCFootball.com since 1996. You can follow him on Twitter at @InsideTroy or email him at email@example.com.