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True freshman quarterback Sam Darnold playing a key role this week

Trojan freshman quarterback Sam Darnold is redshirting this season, but he is still playing an essential role for the USC football team every day in practice.

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.

Its fun [playing Vernon Adams]," Darnold said. "Its just keeping the defense on their toes and trying to make plays out there. Ive got to be Vernon for the week. Hes athletic as heck, thats 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 Oregons 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. Its 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 its fun, its a lot of fun, but its serious too. Youve 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 theyve 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 Im Jared Goff they try to make me not scramble that much," Darnold said. "But when Im Vernon they want me to run around a little bit and make some plays. Not that Jared Goff cant make plays, but he doesnt run around as much. They want me to try and do that, and when I do run around theyre like, Hey, you cant do that youre Jared Goff.' I can be looser when Im 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 Im going to celebrate just like Vernon would do," he said. "Hes going to get up all in their face. They definitely get on me like, You cant celebrate and stuff, were trying to get better out here. Its a good time and thats 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 dont talk trash to Adoree [Jackson], Im 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 its just fun stuff. I also love to mess with Porter [Gustin] because hes so serious all the time, its 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 wont have as much pressure and that way Ill 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 ryan@uscfootball.com.


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