Penn State Football

Franklin, Helton discuss USC quarterback Sam Darnold


One touchdown.

That’s all Southern California could combine to muster against Alabama and Stanford.

Granted, the Crimson Tide defense isn’t easy to break down, and the Cardinal aren’t slouches either.

But nothing was really clicking for USC. The Trojans, ranked No. 20 in the AP’s preseason poll, were supposed to be better than 1-2 to start 2016, or at the very least look the part of a team filled with dynamic weapons.

A change was necessary, and USC coach Clay Helton made the switch. He benched redshirt junior quarterback Max Browne in favor of redshirt freshman Sam Darnold.

The Trojans haven’t looked back since.

USC (9-3, 7-2) are 8-1 since Darnold took over the offense, and the Trojans, on an eight-game winning streak, will look to make it nine in a row on Jan. 2 when they face Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

But before either Helton or Penn State coach James Franklin started to even break down tape of each other’s teams, both joined a media conference call Sunday afternoon to discuss playing in Pasadena.

When asked what caused the switch to Darnold, Helton complimented Browne, and then explained.

“I just had not had the opportunity to see him play in games,” the coach said of Darnold, who did appear briefly and perform well in the team’s first trio of contests. “We went through the first three games and had the opportunity to see Sam play at the Alabama game, at Stanford, at Utah State, and saw the things that he was doing in practice were exactly correlating to the games, that the stage wasn’t too big for him, and would have loved to have been 3-0 at the time, but we were 1-2, and we had not scored a lot of points.”

“We felt at that moment we had to do what was best for our team and make a change at the position and allow Sam to try to create a spark for our offense.”

It’s been the right call for sure.

Darnold has thrown for 2,633 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions this season. The 6-foot-4 California native has completed 68.1 percent of his passes, and turned in a two-touchdown performance guiding the Trojans past playoff-bound Washington.

“He’s one of the big reasons we are where we are today,” Helton said.

As for Franklin, he knows his Nittany Lions face a stiff test.

While the Nittany Lions faced Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett — and limited his impact — Penn State hasn’t dealt with a pocket-passer with Darnold’s size and ability.

Franklin has recognized Darnold from afar, and admits he’ll present a challenge.

“Once the quarterback started clicking for them, then distributing the ball, they developed around him,” Franklin said of Darnold. “So it’s been fun to watch. It’s exciting to watch. They’re a dangerous team.”