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Trojans Survive a Classic Rematch: USC 27 – Texas 24

Texas-USC. The mere mention recalls arguably the greatest national championship ever. It makes us think of the magic that was Vince Young walking into the end zone, the electricity of Reggie Bush, and the build-up that lasted an entire year – that definitely lived up to the expectations. It was a game where both teams laid it all out on the line, and the 6th iteration of this rivalry was no different.

The rematch didn’t start with the fireworks we expected, but rather a defensive battle. The Texas defense started the night by stopping the potent USC offense led by sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold on 2 fourth downs, one of which was a goal line stand.

Tom Herman and Defensive Coordinator Todd Orlando brought the pressure the entire game, but the USC offense didn’t help themselves. Dropped passes combined with plenty of negative plays and penalties made the Trojan offense resort to attempting multiple fourth down conversions to start out the game.

Freshman QB Sam Ehlinger, in his second career start, didn’t get off to a hot start, as he followed up the Longhorns’ goal line stand with an interception and later a fumble, having 2 turnovers going into halftime.

But the Texas offensive line didn’t do Ehlinger any favors. He was sacked 4 times going into the locker room and the Longhorns had 68 rushing yards on the day. The worst take away from the game for Texas was the loss of team captain and junior LT Connor Williams. He was helped to the locker room shortly after the second quarter began and did not return to the game. But rushing 35 times for 68 yard and a 1.9 rush average is unacceptable by every account. That and the insistence to run in between the tackles became increasingly puzzling.

USC’s offense finally came alive when they scored a touchdown with 2:40 left in the first half. Texas followed up the Trojans scoring drive with a punt, giving USC plenty of time to score once again before going into the locker room. But Sam Darnold’s pass was intercepted by DeShon Elliot and retuned 38 yards for a touchdown to tie the game 7-7 with 19 seconds remaining before the half. The Longhorns defense came out swinging, as the Longhorns’ front 7 brought a lot of pressure to the Trojans offensive line, causing USC QB noticeable stress and forcing the sophomore to make some dangerous and at times costly throws.

Sam Darnold would get the next laugh though, as a miraculous play by Ronald Jones II was taken 56 yards for the score with no time on the clock. But this play was more of an indictment on the Texas defense than anything. Surprisingly enough, Todd Orlando’s defense, which surrendered 51 points to the Maryland Terrapins 2 weeks ago, was playing far better than anyone could have expected. It wasn’t until this wonky coverage that USC got the upper hand at 14-7 going into the locker room.

Texas started out the half on the right foot. The Longhorns went on a 12-play, 10-minute drive, but were forced to kick a 39-yard field goal by Joshua Rowland, his first successful field goal of the season. This reduced the Trojans’ lead to 3 at 14-10 USC. Texas and USC would trade punts the rest of the third quarter, but the momentum appeared to swing in the Longhorns’ favor when Michael Dickson faked a punt and converted the first down. But it was all negated when Team Captain P.J. Locke III was called for a holding penalty, forcing the Longhorns to punt.

A pass by Sam Darnold on 3rd and 10 on USC’s 30 was overthrown, and DeShon Elliot grabbed his second interception of the night and returned it 24 yards to the USC 25. On the ensuing Texas possession, Sam Ehlinger escaped pressure in the pocket and believed he was face-masked, but threw the ball to a contested receiver and was intercepted.

Fortunately for the Longhorns, Southern California would punt the ball after the 3rd turnover for the Texas freshman QB. The Longhorns could not afford to punt the ball again, and the Texas offense felt that urgency. Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns went on a 14-play, 4-and-a-half-minute drive that ended with a beautiful corner of the end zone, 17-yard touchdown catch for Armanti Foreman, the first touchdown for Sam Ehlinger on the night, which gave the Longhorns a 17-14 lead.

With 45 seconds left and starting at their own 35, Sam Darnold and the Trojans marched down the field and tied the game as regulation expired at 17 all.

Texas won the coin toss and elected to start on defense. The Trojans scored on the first play of overtime. USC leads, 24-17.

Sam Ehlinger responded swiftly, thanks to Collin Johnson having an outstanding game. The freshman QB tricked everyone, by taking the defense one direction then turning the other way to a wide-open freshman Cade Brewer. Texas hit the extra point and tied the game at 24, leading the way for a second overtime.

Texas started out the second overtime with the football, and was on the verge of getting a first down and even potentially scoring, but the ball was ripped out of Sam Ehlinger’s hands on a called draw play and was recovered by the Trojans. Sam Ehlinger had 4 turnovers on the night; a pair of interceptions and two fumbles. All USC had to do now was score and they would win the football game.

The Texas defense, which laid an egg opening weekend, held steadfast, forcing the Trojans to face a three-and-out.  But since the Trojans only needed a score of any type to win, USC freshman walk-on Chase McGrath was faced with having to make the biggest kick of his young collegiate career from 43 yards. He nailed it through the middle of the uprights, winning the game for Southern California in double overtime, 27-24.

The game proved to be the classic no one expected, and the Longhorns shouldn’t hang their heads in disappointment. Yes they lost, but it was to the #4 team in the country who was riding an 11-game winning streak. The Texas defense played at the highest caliber, arguably on par with Sam Darnold and his squad if not the best unit of the night. The Trojans won their revenge match 27-24 against the Longhorns, and added to the sensation that is the USC-Texas rivalry. This journalist personally cannot wait for the next game, but it’s a shame this one had to end.

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Ross Labenske is a student at the University of Texas studying journalism with a focus in sports. He graduated from Allen High School and has a passion for his hometown teams in the Dallas area; the Mavericks, Rangers, and first and foremost, the Dallas Cowboys.

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