Head to Head: Rosen v Darnold

first_imgGraphic by Jenny Chung | Daily TrojanSome athletes, like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, are connected by rivalry, while others, like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, are connected by friendship. USC redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold and UCLA junior quarterback Josh Rosen are linked together – both now and likely during the course of their professional careers – because of proximity. Both came from the same 2014 recruiting class, both are from Southern California, both play college football within a cozy 15-mile radius and both are bona fide NFL Draft prospects should they choose to leave after this season. Rosen isn’t going anywhereUCLA junior quarterback Josh Rosen usually has a knack for staying in the headlines. This summer, numerous articles pointed out how uncharacteristically low-key the top NFL Draft prospect was during the off-season. One Los Angeles Times column in July read, “UCLA’s Josh Rosen is a shadow of former brash self.”They all spoke too soon. In August, Rosen broke his silence and re-entered the sports talk show news cycle with the comments, “football and school don’t go together,” and “raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have.”Surprisingly, Rosen has stayed out of the headlines for most of this season. Perhaps it’s because he’s matured as all those articles initially suspected. Perhaps it’s because his team isn’t very good (the Bruins are 5-5) or particularly relevant on the national stage, despite the fact that his play has been quietly solid all year (3,094 yards and 21 touchdowns with nine interceptions).Regardless, his brief period outside of the spotlight comes to an end this week. All eyes are on the first ever duel between Rosen and USC quarterback Sam Darnold — the next time they face each other will probably be on a Sunday. Not to mention, it’s impossible to talk about Rosen’s career without also mentioning USC. He grew up a Trojans fan, but chose the Bruins over them because, according to Sports Illustrated, he “really wanted to just mess with everyone” and preferred the potential of UCLA over the established dominance of USC. The connection doesn’t stop there. USC head coach Clay Helton has known Rosen for nearly a decade. “I had the opportunity, when I first got here, to watch him in Pop Warner when my son was playing,” Helton said. “To watch him grow from an eighth grader basically up to what he is now, which is an NFL football player, has been a lot of fun.”Rosen entered UCLA in 2015 with ungodly expectations — Heisman, National Championship, No. 1 draft pick were phrases that floated through the air as seamlessly as his deep ball. During his freshman year in which he threw for 3,670 yards and led the Bruins to a solid 8-5 record, they all seemed to be within reach. The ensuing two seasons, however, have been filled with injuries, disappointment and untapped potential for both Rosen and the UCLA football program. There have been no awards, no championships, and maybe most crushingly, a new quarterback named Sam Darnold from a school 25 minutes away, emerged as many experts’ top projected pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. But the most glaring shadow cast over Rosen’s collegiate career is the fact that he’s never been able to defeat the Trojans. In his freshman year, he threw two interceptions at the Coliseum and USC dominated en route to a 40-21 win. Last year, he missed the final six games of the season including the Trojans’ 36-14 drubbing over the Bruins.For Rosen, Saturday not only represents a chance to prove himself as a first round draft prospect against his most direct competition. It also represents possibly Rosen’s final chance to exorcise his biggest demon in USC and prove that his college career wasn’t a complete bust. If Rosen finally wins, spoiling the Trojans’ season and cementing his decision to pick an upstart UCLA program over USC, one thing will be certain: he will be anything but quiet about it.Darnold is nobody’s underdogMaybe Darnold and Rosen are in similar positions now, but their origins are vastly different. Rosen was a blue chip out of St. John Bosco High School, a five-star from one of California’s most prestigious high school football programs and the No. 1-ranked quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class. Darnold was none of those things.After starting his high school career as a receiver and linebacker and then missing most of his junior year of high school due to a foot injury, Darnold was late to show up on major college programs’ radars. Rosen, on the other hand, is one of UCLA’s most prized and hyped up recruits in school history. Darnold wasn’t even the most highly touted quarterback recruit in his own freshman class at USC (that was Ricky Town, who eventually transferred). When “Chosen Rosen” was throwing for 300-yard games as a true freshman in 2015, an anonymous Darnold was leading the Trojans’ scout team offense.But the story doesn’t end there. As a redshirt freshman last season, Darnold took over the starting quarterback back job from Max Browne three games into the season and subsequently set the college football world ablaze. One year after being a third-string quarterback, Darnold earned the 2017 Rose Bowl MVP award for his 453-yard, five-touchdown performance in USC’s dramatic 52-49 win over Penn State.As Darnold’s meteoric rise was commenced, Rosen spent most of last year sidelined by injuries. Rosen was unable to play in last year’s USC-UCLA game, delaying a much-anticipated matchup between the two signal-callers. Suddenly the most high-profile player in Los Angeles became Darnold and not Rosen. After his scintillating freshman season, Rosen graced the 2016 Sports Illustrated College Football Preview cover. This year, it was Sam Darnold, signaling that both metaphorically and literally, there was a new poster boy in town.At first, it appeared as if Darnold couldn’t handle the newfound hype and pressure that comes with being the “it” guy. He tossed nine interceptions in his first six games and fumbled in key situations in losses to Washington State and Notre Dame. Darnold looked flustered and uncomfortable during much of this season’s first half, unlike in his redshirt freshman year, when his calm, cool and collected nature was considered his biggest strength.Yet, Darnold enters this year’s UCLA game on a tear, much like he did last year. In the last three games since the Notre Dame loss, he’s thrown for 906 yards with seven touchdowns and just one interception. He’s starting to realize every game doesn’t rest solely on his shoulders. He’s starting to trust his young receiving corps and take what the defense gives him rather than forcing passes that are not there.While he had a humble start, Darnold is no longer an underdog — he’s just too physically talented, too successful and too highly regarded for that designation. Still, his beginnings follow him everywhere, especially into his long-awaited duel with Rosen. They serve as a reminder that you don’t need to be a prodigy in order to become the cover boy. “It’s just another opportunity to show kind of my competitiveness,” Darnold said. “I think I can show that again this Saturday.”last_img