LOS ANGELES — Sometimes, USC tries to wrap its quarterbacks in cotton and protect them from life outside the campus bubble.
It might be a strategy necessary for Matt Leinart, who did not like to sign autographs. Or Cody Kessler, who could get surly with reporters if he did not feel like answering a question.
But it never, never needs to be applied to Sam Darnold. A USC official accused me of loving Darnold on Tuesday. Darnold completes passes under pressure and calmly answers questions from the media, so on that basis, I am guilty of enjoying his presence at USC.
All of this made Monday’s practice doubly frustrating because Darnold threw three interceptions and was prevented from speaking to reporters afterward.
USC claimed before the interceptions that Darnold was overworked from doing interviews at Pac-12 media day and Saturday’s opening practice even though it announced last week Darnold would also speak Monday.
It’s too bad because he is the one USC quarterback from the past eight years who can handle any-and-all media duties. He doesn’t need to be coddled. Or protected. Unfortunately, this is the post-Leinart mindset USC has with its quarterbacks, even though some (notably John David Booty, Mark Sanchez) were able to handle those duties without any problems.
Let’s also remember when you have the Heisman Trophy favorite, it helps to let him speak his mind and give the fans more insight into their star quarterback.
Darnold had a rough day Monday. He has four interceptions in two practices. Last summer, he did not throw his first until Aug. 12. No one was more upset than Darnold with his performance Monday night. But we had to listen to the coaches instead.
“Sam’s always going to have free reign,” quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton said. “He’ll learn from his mistakes. You don’t have to say much to him. He already knows. He gets mad at himself.”
Freshman quarterback Jack Sears also threw an interception, which only added to Helton’s frustration. But Helton acknowledged the interceptions are not unexpected because Darnold is getting to know a young group of receivers.
“It has more to do with the fact he has to test all the guys,” Helton said. “And take some chances at times.”
Darnold thrives on taking chances. Like his big touchdown pass to Deontay Burnett to tie the score against Penn State with 1:27 left in the Rose Bowl.
The bottom line is no one is going to worry much if Darnold throws interceptions. And they do…