Football

Texas 37, USC 14: One winning play leads to another, sparking a 34-point avalanche in Longhorns romp

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Story highlights
  • Tom Herman: “I said to the team that this needs to be the standard and not just on Saturday night.”
  • USC held to minus-5 rushing yards as Texas defense bottles up JT Daniels.
  • Big 12 play begins next week. But on this night, Longhorns enjoyed one hell of a moment.

Posted September 16th, 2018

One of Texas coach Tom Herman’s biggest requests has always been simple. Trust your training.

In one of the tightest moments yet this season, the Texas defense did just that in the second quarter on Saturday night against No. 22 USC.

For the second straight year, the Trojans had fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Herman declined an illegal formation penalty on third down that would’ve pushed the Trojans back five yards. Not this time. Trust your players, coaches are taught to believe, and you’ll be rewarded.

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In came USC’s Stephen Carr. “The way our D-line was playing the whole game, we knew there was a chance to pop it outside,” linebacker Gary Johnson said.

Then came the snap. Carr got stretched wide right.

“I was ready for the tight end to release, maybe make a corner route or whatever,” safety Brandon Jones said. “As soon as I saw him block down, I saw the sweep. My first instinct was I had to beat him before he gets to the end zone. I just ran as fast as I could.”

Jones knocked Carr out of bounds at the 3 to complete a goal-line stand that electrified the largest crowd ever packed into Royal-Memorial Stadium. That play started an avalanche of winning moments as Texas scored 34 consecutive points en route to a cathartic 37-14 win.

The Longhorns (2-1) celebrated on the field with dozens of recruits and a stadium-record 103,507 in the stands. Gov. Greg Abbott was hugging Johnson and offensive lineman Elijah Rodriguez as they jogged off the field. Herman and his wife, Michelle, had a gallant stride. Offensive line coach Herb Hand held up the double “Hook ’em” hand sign and let out a primal yell.

Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) celebrates a win over USC Trojans in the NCAA college football game, at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, in Austin, Texas Saturday, Sept. 15 , 2018 RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Big 12 play begins next week against TCU, so the road only gets harder. On this night, the Horns stopped and enjoyed one hell of moment. It was the program’s 900th win.

“There is a bit of a release of a bit of a hump that we got over that we can win a big game,” Herman said. “We hadn’t been able to do that as long as we’ve been here, to that level. That was really good to see our guys respond.”

Maybe this was a signature win, or maybe not, for Herman. It was easily his best moment at home since coming to Texas.

USC jumped out to a 14-3 lead as Carr (23 yards) and Vavae Malepeai (3 yards) both scored after missed tackles. The Trojans were rolling. Before the end of the first quarter, the UT offense incurred a delay penalty after a kickoff. Just what exactly was happening out there?

“I’ll take the blame for that,” quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “I think we were late to get off the sideline.”

Despite the administrative mishaps, Ehlinger kept his composure. On second-and-10 from the USC 48, he threw a ball intended to guide Lil’Jordan Humphrey to the boundary. But the ball got tipped, and Humphrey got turned back inside. Next thing anybody knew, Humphrey made the catch, spun away from the defender and raced 48 yards for the score.

“You see the receivers going out there,” said UT’s Collin Johnson, who had a team-high six catches. “I’ll make a play. LJ comes in and makes a play. Devin (Duvernay) will make a play. Sam. It’s contagious. It’s very contagious.”

One winning play could be an anomaly.

Texas Longhorns wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (84) runs into the end zone for a score against USC Trojans safety Marvell Tell III (7) in the second quarter of the NCAA college football game, at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, in Austin, Texas Saturday, Sept. 15 , 2018 RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

On USC’s ensuing drive, cornerback Kris Boyd went up into the night sky and came down with an interception at the Texas 49, even fighting the USC receiver to the ground in the process. “I just wanted the ball, so I took it,” Boyd said.

Two winning plays could be a coincidence.

Then came Jones’ goal-line moment that short-circuited USC’s 76-yard drive. “Once I sit down and realize that’s one (big play), I’ve got a lot more to go,” Jones said. “I don’t like to hype too much from one play.”

Three winning plays is a trend.

“I said to the team that this needs to be the standard and not just on Saturday night,” Herman said.

Freshman kicker Cameron Dicker of Lake Travis made his UT debut and went 3 for 3. His 20-yard field goal early looked easy. His 46-yard field goal cut the deficit down to one, and Dicker’s second 46-yarder gave the Horns a 16-14 halftime lead.

Texas wide receiver Joshua Moore (14) comes up with a touchdown over USC cornerback Ajene Harris (27) in the second half of an NCAA football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

After the break, freshman Joshua Moore pulled in a scintillating 27-yard touchdown pass in the back of the south end zone. UT’s Caden Sterns got through the line of scrimmage and blocked a 50-yard field goal attempt. Anthony Wheeler picked it up and galloped 46 yards to paydirt.

“I just gave him a big hug,” Sterns said. “Hey, way to scoop-and-score. Obviously I need to work on that practice because I missed it.”

Tight end Andrew Beck had a 10-yard catch on a rather active night for him toward the end of the third quarter. That set the stage for Ehlinger’s 4-yard run around the right side that pushed UT’s lead to 37-14.

“Give them credit,” USC coach Clay Helton said.

The Longhorns left Los Angeles last year thinking they were on the wrong end of a 27-24 double-overtime loss. This time, the Trojans will fly home knowing they were on the wrong end of some bad breaks — and didn’t create enough good fortune of their own.

https://twitter.com/TopeImade/status/1041183174288723969

USC finished the night with minus-5 rushing yards, a total that ranks 24th in UT defensive history. The Trojans should probably gripe to Big 12 officials about not getting a safety in the second quarter. Replays indicated Ehlinger’s knee was down while the ball was still in the end zone.

USC quarterback JT Daniels completed 30 of 48 passes for 322 yards. But he was sacked three times, and the Trojans’ punting game didn’t do Helton any favors, either.

Texas had winning plays in all three phases, trusted their training and played loose and care free. On Saturday, it was a winning formula.

“Momentum is an illusion,” Boyd said, echoing his head coach. “We just know no matter what, we’ve got to play like it’s fourth-and-inches on every play.”

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

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