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USC 27, Texas 24 (2OT): Longhorns believe in themselves again but ‘there’s no moral victories’

Posted September 17th, 2017

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LOS ANGELES — The City of Angels is a place where dreams come true, a place where you can transform into almost anything. On Saturday night, the Longhorns looked in the mirror and saw themselves as college football heavyweights.

If you were wearing burnt orange inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against fourth-ranked USC, you believed in Texas again.

That’s why Vince Young held up the “Hook ’em” hand sign at crunch time as receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey made a 17-yard catch late in the fourth quarter. D’Onta Foreman came leaping off the Texas bench when twin brother Armanti made a 17-yard touchdown catch that gave Texas the lead.

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Matthew McConaughey sure had his Horns up when Sam Ehlinger hit Cade Brewer in overtime. All those fans UT fans tucked into the stadium’s upper reaches believed USC freshman walk-on Chase McGrath would sure miss a 43-yard field goal to win it.

Not all dreams come true as USC ultimately escaped with a 27-24 double-overtime win, leaving UT coach Tom Herman to call it “pretty heartbreaking loss.” But Texas possibly found a leader at quarterback, surely its defense and definitely its footing as a program that can be good again despite this season’s 1-2 start.

Sam Ehlinger-Texas Longhorns
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) fights for yardage against USE defense in the NCAA college football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, September 16, 2017 in Los Angeles. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“I told ’em in the locker room there’s no moral victories in college football,” Herman said. “They don’t put loss and in parenthesis say, ‘Yeah, but they played really hard.’ That doesn’t happen.”

Herman said it’s amazing how many mistakes your team can overcome “with attitude and effort.”

“The guys played hard. That’s really all I can ask for,” receiver Collin Johnson said. “If we can just keep playing like that, we’ll have a chance to do great stuff this season.”

There’s so much for the Longhorns to like about what happened here, except the final score, of course. Start with Ehlinger. Herman said the coaching staff knew on Thursday they were going with the Westlake product over injured sophomore Shane Buechele, who was cleared to play but still not 100 percent.

Ehlinger struggled early but seemed more poised as the game wore on. He completed 21 of 40 passes for 298 yards and threw two touchdowns. “It took a little bit of time to get used to the roar of the crowd of a sold-out stadium,” Ehlinger said with a smile.

Ehlinger force-fed receiver Johnson down the stretch, and the 6-foot-6 Californian had seven catches for 191 yards. But Ehlinger went looking for Brewer in overtime, tossing a 3-yard touchdown that tied things up 24-24.

Texas receiver Collin Johnson finished with seven catches for 191 yards. Ricardo Brazziel/American-Statesman

“The calm that he had, able to play under pressure and get his team going and not affected by things,” USC linebacker Uchenna Nwosu said of Ehlinger. “He’s a very good athlete and total respect to him.”

Ehlinger tried to bully his way into the end zone in double overtime. He barreled straight ahead on second-and-2 from the USC 3, but Christian Rector somehow ripped the ball loose. The thing squired backward, and the Trojans jumped on the turnover as the 84,714 were at full-throated roar.

USC couldn’t get anything going on the ground all night, and Ronald Jones II got stuffed on first down. Quarterback Sam Darnold threw two incompletions, and coach Clay Helton sent out McGrath. He calmly drilled the game-winning kick, and the Trojans went nuts.

Texas players were in a daze as they drifted over to the stadium corner to sing “The Eyes of Texas.” As they went up the Coliseum tunnel, USC fans gave the Longhorns a standing ovation.

“I’m feeling bad, but it’s a great feeling, too,” defensive tackle Chris Nelson said. “We know what we’ve got as a team. At the end of the day, we’ve seen how far we’ve come, honestly.”

Simply put, the Texas defense had one of best performances in years. Jones had a paltry 47 yards on 18 carries. The Trojans had 71 rushing yards total and averaged 1.9 yards per carry.

All total, Texas had three fourth down stops and held the Trojans to just 6 of 18 on third down. On some plays, USC simply botched the throws or catches. But Malcolm Roach and Naashon Hughes stuffed Jones on fourth-and-goal, Anthony Wheeler and Charles Omenihu had huge sacks and P.J. Locke III knifed in and blew up a flat pass.

Safety DeShon Elliott also had a defensive gem when he snagged an interception and raced 38 yards for a touchdown. The unit’s only deflating moment came on the last play of the first half when Jones scored on a 56-yard catch-and-run.

“That’s what it’s supposed to look like,” linebacker Malik Jefferson said.

Charles Omenihu/American-Statesman
Texas defensive lineman Charles Omenihu (90) tries to bring down USC quarterback Sam Darnold (14) in double overtime in the NCAA college football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, September 16, 2017 in Los Angeles. Ricardo Brazziel/American-Statesman

The offense struggled through the first three quarters, possibly due to losing All-American left tackle Connor Williams to a knee injury.

The UT coaching staff already had misgivings about Tristan Nickelson and Denzel Okafor at right tackle. With Williams out, Nickelson and Okafor had to play at both tackle spots. The unit’s failings were on clear display late in the second quarter when Ehlinger had to take three consecutive sacks.

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck refused to use 250-pounder Chris Warren III. Warren had 166 yards against San Jose State. But he got only four carries for 15 yards. Beck and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando do not speak to reporters after games.

Herman said Warren suffered an eye laceration, but there was no real explanation why Warren didn’t get any more carries. Herman rambled a tad, saying Warren’s average of 3.8 yards per carry would only equal 38 yards on 10 attempts. “We’ve got to figure out ways to give him the ball on plays that he’s good at and that we’re good at up front,” he said.

Texas also has to figure out what it’ll do at quarterback going into the bye week. Herman said Buechele would go back to working with the first team “if he feels great, if he’s 100 percent.”

Right now, Texas feels great, all things considered. The rest of this season suddenly looks dramatically different.

“After we lick our wounds and realize how close we came,” Herman said, “I think we’re going to be able to build upon this immensely.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

The post USC 27, Texas 24 (2OT): Longhorns believe in themselves again but ‘there’s no moral victories’ appeared first on Hook ‘Em.

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