LOS ANGELES — USC quarterback Sam Darnold was without one of his top receiving targets in Saturday’s Pac-12 opener against Stanford.
Daniel Imatorbhebhe was out because of a sore hip flexor, an injury that has nagged the third-year sophomore tight end since training camp.
It was an unexpected development.
Imatorbhebhe had practiced during the week and took part in USC’s season-opening victory over Western Michigan, though he had been limited.
Coach Clay Helton had described Imatorbhebhe as 85 or 90 percent healed earlier in the week.
“He always tells me, ‘Yeah, Coach, I’m 95,’” Helton said. “He wasn’t all the way (to 100 percent), but he goes out there and helps his brothers.”
Imatorbhebhe caught one pass for 12 yards against the Broncos, used mostly in blocking situations. He entered this season as the Trojans’ second leading returning receiver after catching 17 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns last fall.
“From a blocking standpoint, I thought he did a wonderful job,” Helton said of his debut last week. “Obviously, as he feels healthy, we’ll integrate him into the passing game.”
MITCHELL IN END ZONE
Steven Mitchell, a fifth-year senior receiver, caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Darnold on USC’s opening drive, making the catch along the back line of the end zone.
It was Mitchell’s first touchdown reception since USC’s home opener last season against Utah State.
Mitchell sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in mid-October last year, undergoing the second season-ending knee surgery of his college career.
On a scoring drive late in the second quarter, Mitchell also snagged a 49-yard pass from Darnold.
Redshirt freshman Michael Brown injured his left knee on USC’s opening kickoff, appearing to land at the bottom of a pile.
The Trojans had brought down Cameron Scarlett at the 18-yard line.
Brown limped off the field and later went to the locker room. He returned with a brace wrapped around his left knee and walking on crunches.
After training camp, Chase McGrath, a freshman walk-on, edged Brown to handle field-goal attempts and extra-point attempts for USC.
When Brown was injured Saturday, McGrath also took over kickoffs.
Darnold completed his first 10 passes against Stanford.
His streak ended in the second quarter after an incompletion. His 12th attempt later on the drive was picked off by Stanford safety Justin Reid.
Freshman Marlon Tuipulotu made his first start…