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Heartbreak in LA: No. 4 USC escapes Texas with a 27-24 overtime thriller

Posted September 17th, 2017

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It’s all over at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and No. 4 USC has beaten Texas in overtime 27-24.

The victory came in dramatic fashion — Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, just 2 yards away from a touchdown in the second overtime, was stripped of the ball by a USC defender.

The Trojans, needing only a field goal, got it — a 43-yarder from Chase McGrath, who had missed from 46 yards earlier in the game before forcing overtime with a 31-yarder with no time left in regulation.

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Tom Herman summed it up pretty well in his opening statement after the game:

“Pretty heartbreaking loss,” he said. “To play with that much passion, energy and commitment and love for the guy next to  you, it’s amazing how many mistakes you can overcome with attitude and effort. And we made our fair share of them — turning the ball over four times and issues with the snap and a couple of costly calls that didn’t go our way, big-time momentum swings, but our guys fought hard.”

Why Texas (1-2) lost: Well, it wasn’t because of the defense, which played like it was Jan. 4, 2006 all over again. The Longhorns stopped USC on three fourth-down plays and back-to-back goal-line stops inside the 1 in the first half. Sam Ehlinger, getting the start for the second straight week over an injured Shane Buechele, was shaky in the first half but electric in the second, particularly in the fourth quarter and overtime. We may have watched him supplant Buechele tonight, though after the game Herman said the sophomore, not the freshman, would be working with the first team at Texas’ next practice.

Why USC (3-0) won: Sam Darnold, who has been generating buzz as the Heisman Trophy favorite and possible No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL draft should he choose to come out, showed he has flaws but connected on key passes late. The Trojans utilized their key weapons — Darnold, Ronald Jones II and Deontay Burnett — to maximum effect. Each played a key role in the victory.

Herman is now 6-1 vs. Top 25 teams and 3-1 vs. Top 5s. The fourth-ranked Trojans nearly joined the likes of 2015 Florida State and 2016 Oklahoma in the Herman run, but escaped.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) gets hit by USC defense in the second half of the NCAA college football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, September 16, 2017 in Los Angeles. Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman

The overtime

Texas won the flip and opted to play defense first. Darnold found Burnett for a 25-yard touchdown pass on the very first play. Burnett got by Kris Boyd on the route.

Texas got its turn. Reggie Hemphill-Mapps was stopped for no gain on first down and Ehlinger, under pressure, spun out of a tackler’s grasp and threw out of bounds but Tristan Nickelson was called for holding.

That made it second-and-20 from the 35. Ehlinger found Collin Johnson for a 21-yard catch and first down to the 14. Lorenzo Joe caught an 11-yard pass down to the 3 for another first down. Ehlinger then found freshman tight end Cade Brewer for the tying touchdown.

In the second overtime, Ehlinger was sacked on first down. That made it second and long again (second-and-18). Ehlinger found Hemphill-Mapps for 11 to make it third-and-7, and he kept the play alive long enough to complete another first-down pass to Chris Warren III down to the 11. Ehlinger kept it up the middle down to the 3.

The next play was Texas’ final play, when Ehlinger got stripped.

USC, needing only a field goal to win, took over at the 25. Malik Jefferson popped Ronald Jones II for no gain on first down. Then an apparent winning touchdown on second down was called back when it was ruled USC’s receiver lost control of the ball as he landed. On third-and-10, Darnold threw incomplete.

That set up McGrath’s 43-yard field goal attempt to win the game. McGrath had missed from 46 earlier. The Longhorns called a time out to ice him, but it didn’t work.

McGrath’s field goal was true.

USC running back Stephen Carr (7) gets tackled by Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson (46) in the second half of the NCAA college football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, September 16, 2017 in Los Angeles. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The fourth quarter

The game really came down to Texas’ drive that started at its own 9 with 5:14 to go, and the Longhorns trailing 14-10.

Armanti Foreman was stopped for a loss, Kendall Moore was flagged for a false start and that led to a second-and-16 at Texas’ 3. Ehlinger, under pressure in the end zone, threaded a 17-yard completion to Lil’Jordan Humphrey, giving the Longhorns new life.

Chris Warren III ran for 5 and Ehlinger threw it away on second. On third-and-5 with 3:25 to go, Tristan Nickelson — playing left tackle because Connor Williams was injured in the first half — got beaten by the defensive end but Ehlinger spun out of trouble and then scrambled for a twisting first down right at the marker. The play was reviewed, however, for ball placement and it was ruled that Ehlinger was just short.

On fourth-and-1 with 3:11 to go, at Texas’ 29, Ehlinger kept it and gained two. Nice lead block from Kyle Porter. After missing on a deep shot to Lorenzo Joe, Ehlinger connected with Collin Johnson on a perfectly placed pass for a 47-yard gain to USC’s 28.

Ehlinger threw to Johnson again on first down into the end zone, but was off the mark. He had Humphrey open on second down but couldn’t find him. On third-and-10 with 1:24 to go, he threw too high to Johnson, who’s 6-6.

Texas called a timeout with 1:19 left. On fourth-and-10 Ehlinger found a leaping Armanti Foreman for a first down at the 17 with a minute left.

Ehlinger threw incomplete to Lorenzo Joe in the end zone on first down. With 54 seconds left, Ehlinger escaped pressure and zinged it to Foreman for a touchdown.

Texas wide receiver Armanti Foreman (3) and Texas running back Chris Warren III (25) celebrate a touch down in the second half during the NCAA college football game against USC held at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, September 16, 2017 in Los Angeles. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The numbers

First-half stats: USC led 14-7. The Trojans had 239 total yards, the Longhorns had 90. The Trojans rushed for 66, the Longhorns 1. USC was 4 of 10 on third-down conversions, Texas was 1 of 7. The Longhorns committed two turnovers, the Trojans one. Ehlinger was 5 of 10 for 89 yards and an interception, while Chris Warren III and Kyle Porter combined for 5 carries for 14 yards.

Final stats: Ehlinger was 21 of 40 for 298 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a pair of fumbles. Warren had 4 carries for 15 yards, Porter had 5 for 9. Collin Johnson had a huge night — 7 catches for 191 yards.

For USC, Darnold was 28 of 49 for 397 yards and 3 TDs. He also threw two interceptions, giving him six for the season. Ronald Jones II had 18 carries for 47 yards and Stephen Carr had 9 for 28. Burnett had 8 catches for 123 yards and 2 TDs and Steven Mitchell Jr. had 6 for 90.

Drive breakdowns

Texas’ four drives in the first quarter: Turnover on downs, an interception, punt and fumble.

Its four drives of the second: Punt, punt, punt punt.

Its three drives of the third: Field goal, punt, punt.

Its three drives of the fourth: Punt, interception, touchdown.

Trailing 14-7 to start the second half, Ehlinger completed passes of 24 yards to Collin Johnson (on a really nice stretched-out catch) and 10 and 9 yards to Armanti Foreman for the Texas offense’s first scoring drive — and Joshua Rowland’s first field goal as a Longhorn. After missing from 42, 43 and 44 yards in the first two games, Rowland’s 39-yarder cut USC’s lead to 14-10 with 9:30 left in the third quarter.

Holton Hill made another big play on USC’s ensuing drive, stopping Steven Mitchell just short of a first down on a fourth-and-3 completion over the middle. It was just a good open-field tackle. He and Malik Jefferson stopped another third-down try early in the fourth.

It’s been awhile since Texas’ defense played this well on this big of a national stage. Specifically, these defenders shined:

  • DeShon Elliott, who scored on an interception return in the first half and added a second pick in the fourth quarter. Three games, three pick-sixes so far for the Longhorns.
  • Malcolm Roach, who stuffed Ronald Jones II on a fourth-and-goal at the 1.
  • Holton Hill, who broke up a third-down pass and stuffed Jones on third down at the goal line to set up Roach’s fourth-down stop in the first half, and stopped Mitchell short of a first down on a fourth-down play in the second.
  • Anthony Wheeler, who turned a potential scoring drive that had reached UT’s 19 into a missed 46-yard field goal thanks to a 9-yard sack of Sam Darnold.

Poona Ford, Charles Omenihu and Malik Jefferson also had good nights.

Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson (9) pulls in the ball for a first down against USC cornerback Iman Marshall (8) in the first half of the NCAA college football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, September 16, 2017 in Los Angeles. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

How it all went down

First quarter: Texas 0, USC 0. Both teams averaged better than 45 points a game heading into this game, and both the Longhorns and Trojans had scoring opportunities. But the defenses stole the spotlight, especially Texas’, which made two fourth-down stopsk including a stuff of Ronald Jones near the goal line. Sam Ehlinger got his second career start and threw an interception and lost a fumble.

Second quarter: Halftime — USC 14, Texas 7. The Trojans finally broke through with Deontay Burnett’s third touchdown of the season; he made a diving catch in the back of the end zone that was upheld on the replay. Then each team scored unexpected touchdowns in the final 30 seconds — a pick-six from DeShon Elliott and a long catch-and-run score by Ronald Jones II on the final play. Texas had 1 net rushing yard at the break.

USC: Deontay Burnett 15-yard pass from Sam Darnold (Chase McGrath kick, 2:06)

UT: DeShon Elliott 38-yard interception return (Joshua Rowland kick, :19)

USC: Ronald Jones II 56-yard pass from Darnold (McGrath kick, :00)

Third quarter: USC 14, Texas 10. The Longhorns opened the half with a 12-yard play that was capped by Joshua Rowland’s first field goal as a Longhorn; he had missed his three previous attempts this season from 42, 43 and 44 yards but connected from 39 against the Trojans. Texas nearly got another big special teams play, but Michael Dickson’s fake punt run for a first down was wiped out by a holding call on P.J. Locke III, his lead blocker.

UT: Joshua Rowland 39-yard field goal (9:30)

Fourth quarter: End of regulation — Texas 17, USC 17. Elliott’s second interception of the game put Texas in position to threaten for a score, but Ehlinger threw an interception. Fans probably didn’t like the no-call on an apparent facemask on Ehlinger right before the throw, but TV replays showed it was a good no-call. Another defensive stop gave Texas a shot, trailing 14-10 with 5:14 left and starting at its own 9, and Ehlinger responded with an impressive drive and touchdown with 45 seconds to go. But Sam Darnold drove the Trojans for a game-tying, overtime-forcing field goal as time expired.

UT: Armanti Foreman 17-yard pass from Sam Ehlinger (Rowland kick, :45)

USC: McGrath 31-yard field goal (:00)

Overtime: Final — USC 27, Texas 24. The Trojans made quick work of their first drive, scoring on their very first play. Ehlinger escaped another tough scenario — second and 20 — to eventually find Cade Brewer for the 24-24 tie. But Ehlinger was stripped on Texas’ second OT possession, setting up USC’s winning kick.

USC: Burnett 25-yard pass from Darnold (McGrath kick)

UT: Cade Brewer 3-yard pass from Ehlinger (Rowland kick)

USC: McGrath 43-yard field goal

Observations

1. Connor Williams went down on the first play of the second quarter. We haven’t heard anything about his injury, but when you lose perhaps the best player on your team, it’s a scary situation.

2. There were two critical shotgun snap breakdowns, including a huge one with 11:46 left in the game on a third-and-1 from Texas’ own 28; Zach Shackelford’s snap ended up low and on the ground. Ehlinger scooped it up and managed to throw it away in the shadow of the goal line, but it took away a precious first-down opportunity.

On that same play, by the way, it was Kyle Porter, not Chris Warren III, in the backfield for third-and-1.

Later, on Texas’ critical closing drive in the fourth, it was Porter in there again on fourth-and-1 with 3:11 to go. He had an important block to help secure the first down.

3. Kudos to Herman for calling that fake punt in the third quarter. It worked. But only because lead blocker P.J. Locke III had to hold a USC defender. Still, it was a great call at that point, trailing 14-10 but with momentum up for grabs.

4. It was unfair to expect a similar defensive performance in the second half that we got in the first half. Though that’s exactly what Texas needed. And got.

5. As exciting as Hemphill-Mapps was on that 91-yard punt return against Maryland, he had two questionable returns tonight, choosing to field and return right at the goal line. One of them worked — he ran it back out to the 30 — but one of them didn’t, forcing the offense to start at the 2 early in the fourth with Texas trailing 14-10.

6. From the woulda, coulda, shoulda department, consider this: Texas gave up a shot at a 35-yard field goal. Those missing three points sure would’ve been big at the end.

The Longhorns are off this coming week but open Big 12 play on Sept. 28 at Iowa State. That’s a Thursday night ESPN game.

The post Heartbreak in LA: No. 4 USC escapes Texas with a 27-24 overtime thriller appeared first on Hook ‘Em.

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