Sam Darnold, USC no strangers to second-half comebacks

USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) hands off to teammate running back Ronald Jones II (25) against the Texas Longhorns during a NCAA college football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. USC Trojans won in double over-time 27-24. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) hands off to teammate running back Ronald Jones II (25) against the Texas Longhorns during a NCAA college football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. USC Trojans won in double over-time 27-24. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

LOS ANGELES >> It has been a recent phenomenon.

In three of USC’s past four victories, stretching to last January’s Rose Bowl win, its offense has been forced to overcome late deficits.

Against Penn State? The Trojans trailed by 14 points entering the fourth quarter.

In this season’s opener against Western Michigan? They fell behind by a touchdown in the third quarter.

Last Saturday against Texas? They were down by three points, before mounting a final drive to force overtime.

Each time, USC emerged unscathed.

“It just brings out the best in everybody, when you’re challenged to have get it done,” said Tyson Helton, the Trojans’ quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.

The win over Texas was as improbable as any recent of their recent comebacks.

After the Longhorns took a 17-14 lead with 45 seconds remaining, they held a win expectancy of more than 91 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

When USC regained possession at its 35-yard line, with 39 seconds to go, it had been an uneven evening for its offense. It had been scoreless in the second half. Quarterback Sam Darnold had been intercepted twice. It showed little signs of life.

It mattered little.

“It starts with Sam,” tight end Tyler Petite said. “You have a leader that is so poised and calm. It just kind of ripples throughout everybody.

“When you have the most important guy on your offense come in and be the most calm and collected out of everybody, even the coaches, you have a guy who’s coming in and saying, ‘lets go score,’ it’s like another day of playing football in the backyard, to be able to see that confidence from someone who is leading the team, it’s calming.”

Darnold, his teammates contend, never shows any worry.

They rallied again.

“He provides one thing to your team no matter how adverse the situation is and that’s hope,” USC coach Clay Helton added.

Darnold started the tying scoring drive against Texas, which ended on a 31-yard field goal by freshman walk-on Chase McGrath, with three straight completions, some more difficult.

On one 21-yard pass to freshman running back Stephen Carr, Darnold need more time, so he leaped in the air before floating it downfield to Carr, who was running along the left hashmarks.

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“39 seconds is an eternity for us,” Tyson Helton said. “We have plenty of time to go score. We won’t necessarily worry about the time, we just worry about what plays we’re going to run.”

It was another instance when the offense straightened out when it mattered. In the opening win over Western Michigan, it pulled ahead following four touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

“I feel as if we can score at will,” receiver Tyler Vaughns said. “We hurt ourselves just with the little details. Missed blocks. Missed assignments. Stuff like that. It’s never about the opponent, it’s always about us.”

Darnold on Tuesday wasn’t sure what lead would be insurmountable for the Trojans, who are off to a 3-0 start and have won 12 straight games dating to last season.

“Maybe like 50 points at halftime,” he surmised.

Injury toll

A bevy of USC’s starters were either missing or limited in practice on Tuesday, leaving their status for the team’s road opener at Cal on Saturday in question.

Outside linebacker Porter Gustin, who is recovering from a strained bicep and toe fracture, was held out, as was receiver Steven Mitchell (groin), defensive end Rasheem Green (high ankle sprain) and nickelback Ajene Harris (knee sprain).

The Trojans’ first-team defense at one point included four new potential starters.

Inside linebacker John Houston, who did not play against Texas because of a stinger in his neck, was limited along with outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, beset by a knee sprain.

Running back Ronald Jones missed most of practice because of an ankle sprain.

“If we have a couple injuries in this game,” Clay Helton said in reference to the Cal game, “then I’m going to get worried. But I think we have adequate numbers.”

Right tackle Chuma Edoga, who was pulled against Texas because of a sprained right wrist, did practice, as well as defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu, sidelined last week with a knee sprain.

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