With each touchdown pass Sam Darnold threw in last year’s Rose Bowl against Penn State, his draft stock climbed and his bank account ballooned.

One by one, Darnold picked apart the Lions secondary en route to a thrilling last-second victory. He put the Trojans on his back and delivered a loud message to the world in the process.

“Yes, I’m the real deal.”

It’s true that Darnold looks like the real deal. Despite the fact that the USC quarterback struggled with interceptions in 2017, he still was the driving force behind the program’s second consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl. This time, of course, it’ll face a different B1G East squad.

Ohio State will be tasked with doing what Penn State couldn’t. That is, don’t let Darnold play backyard football in Jerry World.

That’s essentially what he did against a Lions defense that didn’t have any answers for the future first-round pick. All game long, Darnold dropped back and went through his progressions with ease. For all the credit he gets for his ability to evade pressure, Darnold didn’t have to do much of that against Penn State.

He was sacked once. Technically, he was never hurried, either. No wonder he threw for 453 yards and 5 touchdowns.

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You’ll notice that Darnold had basically no pressure on him during those highlights. That incredible game-tying touchdown pass he had might’ve been the best throw of his career, but it only happened because Penn State’ pass rush was nowhere to be found.

For OSU, this is a game where we could easily see the Rushmen Package on more than just obvious passing downs. Notre Dame consistently got pressure and wound up sacking Darnold five times en route to a 49-14 victory. That’s obviously a formula that the Buckeyes would love to copy. And with the likes of Nick Bosa, Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Jerome Baker, that’s certainly possible.

Even with all of OSU’s talent in the front seven, that hasn’t always been a sure-fire blueprint for victory.

Against Oklahoma, Baker Mayfield was sacked twice and hurried twice. As a result, he lit up the Buckeyes for 386 yards and three scores. The OSU offense couldn’t sustain drives down the stretch and the defense ran out of gas.

The Cotton Bowl will mark Ohio State’s first game against a top-20 passing offense since that Oklahoma showdown. With all due respect to the likes of Trace McSorley and Alex Hornibrook, those aren’t guys who project at the next level like Darnold and Mayfield.

Why does that matter? Because the thinking with talents like Darnold and Mayfield is that when you give them time, they can make any throw. If you can’t find a way to get in their face and make them uncomfortable, they can pick apart good coverage and make big-time plays.

Again, he did this:

I know what you’re thinking. There’s no guarantee that Darnold makes those kinds of throws against the Buckeyes. After all, he threw 12 interceptions this year. The guy hasn’t been in Penn State mode throughout 2017.

That’s true.

It’s also true that Darnold threw just three interceptions in his last 240 pass attempts, which is an average of one pick every 80 throws (Mayfield threw one interception for every 73.8 passes in 2017). Assuming that Darnold is destined to make several awful throws in a game might not be so wise. The safer bet is to consistently dial up pressure in ways that he hasn’t seen before.

On the flip side, it’s not like Darnold has seen a bunch of top-flight pass defenses. The only group he faced all year that ranked better than OSU’s No. 18 against the pass was Washington State, which handed USC one of its two losses in 2017. What’s to say that Darnold won’t fall victim to another defense that doesn’t panic when he drops back to pass?

Maybe that’s why Ohio State is a touchdown favorite against USC. Perhaps the thinking is that OSU will have success because it saw what worked and what didn’t work against Darnold. After all, everyone has had another year to pick him apart.

Penn State’s plan of attack didn’t work against the redshirt freshman last year. The Buckeyes will do whatever they can to not mimic that strategy.

Well, unless they want Darnold to make Jerry World look like his backyard.