Football prepares for stiff challenge from Utah’s defense

Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

The football team returned to practice on Tuesday following its win over Oregon State. The Trojans began preparations for a Pac-12 South showdown with Utah while settling some controversy from this weekend.

Darnold apologizes to coaches

Following Saturday’s win over Oregon State, redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold appeared to criticize the team’s offensive play-calling.

“I can sense that defenses are focusing on tendencies of ours,” Darnold said. “So we just have to run different plays out of different formations, motion some more guys [and] get away from our tendencies a little bit, and I think we’ll be fine.”

After Tuesday’s practice, he walked back on those words.

“I looked at the film — honestly, I was just wrong,” Darnold said. “I kind of let my emotions get the best of me in that moment.”

The team’s only offensive captain apparently spoke to the coaching staff about his statements.

“I apologized just because as a player, I know how hard they work, and I know how hard we work as a unit, as an offense to get ready for every single game,” Darnold said. “And for me to make that comment, it’s something I shouldn’t do.”

Quarterbacks coach and pass game coordinator Tyson Helton offered his support for Darnold after hearing about the comments.

“We all know Sam is the most upstanding guy, the most team-oriented guy,” Helton said. “I just know that the great thing about this football team is that we’re all pulling in the same direction.”

Preparing for stout defense

This weekend, the Trojans will clash with Utah, which possesses the second-best defense in the Pac-12 in terms of point allowed per game (18.4). With the possible exception of Notre Dame, this could be the most challenging defensive front USC encounters over the final half of the season.

“Every man [on the defensive line] is over 300 pounds — some of them are 320, 330,” head coach Clay Helton said. “By far the biggest front that we’ll face and, as a tandem, the best two linebackers [Sunia Tauteoli and Kavika Laufatasaga].”

Utah’s defense is also tied for forcing the most interceptions in the conference with nine (USC and Stanford also each have nine). Meanwhile, Darnold has thrown the most interceptions in the Pac-12 (nine).

Injury Report

On Tuesday, freshman nose tackle Marlon Tuipulotu underwent back surgery, effectively ending his debut season. However, Helton noted that because Tuipulotu played four or fewer games, he can be granted a medical redshirt.

In more positive news, redshirt sophomore tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe returned to practice this week.

“He looked good,” Helton said. “We’ll see his soreness coming back tomorrow. We’re really working to get him back in football shape.”