During a college football season, clichéd comments about opponents can pile up like rushing yards.
Each week, some coach will insist that his team is taking things “one game at a time.” The most important game is the next one, a quarterback will swear. Looking ahead? No way. That winless team on the schedule is just as feared as the championship contender.
At Texas, the tried and true slogan is “1-0.” Ask any Longhorn ahead of any game and they’ll tell you they’re just trying to go 1-0. It doesn’t matter if the team on the opposing sideline is Tulsa, Kansas, TCU or 22nd-ranked USC.
“Like coach (Tom) Herman always talks about, don’t make the moment bigger than it really is,” UT wide receiver Collin Johnson said. “You’ve just got to go out there and don’t prepare any different than we did against Tulsa.”
So Collin, there’s nothing ANY different about this game against USC? Not even for a California kid who chose Texas over USC and had a career-defining moment last season against the Trojans?
OK, Johnson conceded, “Deep down, there’s that feeling it’s going to be a special game.”
Saturday’s showdown comes one year after USC beat Texas in double overtime at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Johnson caught seven passes, which featured some coverage from Trojans all-conference defensive back Iman Marshall. Johnson’s 191 yards were the fourth-most in school history and the most ever for a Longhorn in a road game.
“He had a great game last year,” quarterback Sam Ehlinger said.
“That’s his M.O. He goes up, he makes plays, he’s a really dynamic receiver for us,” tight end Andrew Beck analyzed. “His job to go up and make big plays. I think he’s really good at it and he kind of showed the world that last year.”
Johnson went on to lead Texas last year in receptions (54) and receiving yards (765). In this season’s opener against Maryland, he caught a 22-yard touchdown and set up another score with a 33-yard grab.
Johnson, though, has had his struggles since that breakout evening in Los Angeles. At one point last season, he was benched in favor of former UT receiver Dorian Leonard. The unheralded pass defenses of Iowa State, Oklahoma and West Virginia held him to two catches. He had only 37 receiving yards last week against Tulsa, although Ehlinger was quick to point out the double-coverage that Johnson drew opened opportunities for receivers like Lil’Jordan Humphrey (seven receptions, 109 yards).
The performance against USC “showed what I can do and what I’m capable of,” Johnson said. He insists, though, that he isn’t chasing that ghost.
“I feel like if I focus solely on that, it distracts me from me from the main purpose … and that’s just to win games,” Johnson said. “I had a great performance last year and we still lost the game. I’m just focused on doing everything in my power to win, and that’s all I can control.”
The 6-6, 220-pound junior said he has gotten better since last year’s trip to Los Angeles. He has upgraded his route-running. He’s developed a deeper understanding about timing and spacing. He even bragged on Tuesday about the improvement of the receivers’ run-blocking in last week’s win over Tulsa.
On Saturday, Johnson will see a USC secondary that has allowed six 100-yard receivers since his 2017 visit to Los Angeles. (UCLA’s Jordan Lasley had 204 yards and three touchdowns last November.) USC has allowed 280 passing yards so far against UNLV and Stanford. Marshall is among the defensive backs who are back in the Trojans secondary.
“I’m really looking forward to playing them; they’re a great team,” Johnson said. “Just the history of this game, this and OU, it doesn’t get better than this to me.”