There is rarely a good reason to overreact to a Week 1 victory that isn't as smooth as expected. Yes, Sam Darnold had an uneven game in a closer-than-expected win over Western Michigan last Saturday, but it was merely one game after a long offseason.
On Saturday, the potential Heisman Trophy contender and early NFL Draft pick made everybody remember why he and his team were lavished with so much preseason praise. No. 6 USC beat No. 14 Stanford 42-24 in Los Angeles, with a fantastic start by Darnold followed by a prolific finish by the running game to close it out.
Darnold completed his first 11 passes and ultimately went 21 of 26 for 316 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He kept pace with Stanford in an entertaining first half in which both defenses struggled to get stops, with Deontay Burnett picking up where he left off in the Rose Bowl as Darnold's favorite target.
Burnett, who caught nine passes for 121 yards and two TDs, had the highlight of the game, making a diving catch in the front of the end zone after a beautiful throw from Darnold on the move:
All four of USC's first-half TD drives covered at least 75 yards, but Stanford had answers early, including a 75-yard run by Bryce Love. Love finished with 160 yards on 17 carries, but his production trailed off in the second half, along with the rest of the Cardinal. Despite the strong start, Stanford was out-gained 623 to 342 yards and scored only seven second-half points.
Meanwhile, in addition to Darnold's prolific day, USC got 23 carries for 116 yards and two TDs from Ronald Jones II and 11 carries for 119 yards from Stephen Carr, giving the team a balanced day in which both the passing game and running game cracked 300 yards.
Despite the sluggish first three quarters last week, USC still beat Western Michigan 49-31. Now, the Trojans can truly start making the argument that they'll live up to heightened preseason expectations after they finally vanquished Stanford again.
Stanford had won eight of 11 games against USC dating back to the colossal upset of 2007. The Cardinal had won three games over the Trojans by double digits in the past two years. All preseason, USC and Washington were viewed as the Pac-12 frontrunners, but Stanford has been the conference's most consistently good team this decade, still lingering as a hurdle.
Facing questions about Week 1, questions about the high expectations and questions about beating Stanford, the Trojans came up with emphatic answers on Saturday night, extending their winning streak to 11 after last September's 1-3 start.
Darnold is still a star quarterback who looks like an NFL player. USC is still a national title contender. Week 1 is a thing of the past, and with Texas coming to town next week, the Trojans can move forward as the playoff frontrunner they're supposed to be.