By SCHUYLER DIXON, AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — If Sam Darnold returns to the home of the Dallas Cowboys in four months, he figures to leave feeling a bit better than after a rough night in the Cotton Bowl.
Darnold threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, lost two fumbles on sacks and misfired on several other throws in No. 8 Southern California’s 24-7 loss to fifth-ranked Ohio State on Friday night.A third-year sophomore, Darnold is projected as a possible top overall pick in the NFL draft, which will be held at AT&T Stadium in late April. If he’s the first one on stage with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, that’ll be a better look than a quiet walk off the field as Ohio State players celebrated.
In the locker room, Darnold hugged cornerback-receiver Keyshawn “Pie” Young after signing Young’s No. 15 jersey, which had other signatures as well. The 20-year-old Darnold remained noncommittal on his future.
“Talking to my family, talking to coaches, people who have been in my position before,” Darnold said. “That’s kind of how I’ll go about it.”
If Darnold declares for the draft, he figures to be gone by the time the Denver Broncos are on the clock. Still, general manager John Elway and former coach Gary Kubiak, one of their scouts, were in the press box.
The NFL evaluators will have to overlook Darnold’s showing against the Buckeyes. While he threw for 356 yards — his eighth 300-yard game of the season — Darnold was just 26-of-45 passing. With the two lost fumbles, he’s tied for the FBS lead with 22 turnovers.
“I think I’m really just focused on just hanging out with my teammates for the next couple of days and really just saying bye to the seniors because they’ve put together such a great season,” Darnold said. “It’s tough. I’ll look at everything and make my decision after that.”
Darnold threw into double coverage on a short route, and Damon Webb jumped the throw and returned the interception untouched 28 yards for a 17-0 Ohio State lead early in the second quarter.
The Buckeyes made it 24-0 later in the second two plays after Darnold was hit from behind as he tried to escape a collapsing pocket. On the second fumble, Darnold was hit as he threw. Both times, the Trojans were inside the Ohio State 25.
Darnold almost threw another interception that could have been returned for a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half. The desperate toss from the end zone to avoid a safety went off the hands of a leaping Kendall Sheffield, who was alone on the sideline inside the 20.
“I don’t think one game can define Sam Darnold, because if you watch film, you know he’s the best quarterback around,” receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. “Disappointing? Yes, for our seniors. But for us young guys, we’re going to take this and move on and get better.”
Coach Clay Helton said his discussions with Darnold will include where he’s projected to get taken along with what the quarterback has left to play for with the Trojans, who finished 11-3 in a season that started with national title hopes.
“We’ve got plenty of time,” Helton said. “We’ll let this one sink in. This one hurts a little bit, but we’ll sit as a family. He’s a good man, and he’ll make the best decision for him and his family.”
His receivers seemed prepared for the decision to go either way.
“These past three years have been amazing,” said Deontay Burnett, who led USC with 12 catches for 139 yards. “Whatever decision he makes is going to be a great decision for him. But I thought he was a warrior today. He battled, even with adversity.”
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)