Here are five key matchups in the Texas-USC game to keep your eye on Saturday night:
1. JT Daniels vs. Texas’ five-star freshmen
Last week, Texas safeties Caden Sterns and B.J. Foster notched not only the first interceptions of the season but also the first of their UT careers in the 28-21 win over Tulsa. The freshmen, both of whom were five-star recruits in the 2018 signing class, now will stare down Daniels, a five-star signee himself. The Trojans’ freshman quarterback who skipped his senior year of high school is 37 of 69 for 497 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in his first two games against UNLV and Stanford. He injured his hand in the 17-3 loss to Stanford last Saturday but is expected to start.
2. Tre Watson vs. USC’s run defense
Watson, the graduate transfer from Cal, has some familiarity with USC — the California native has already faced the Trojans while with Cal. He’s the Longhorns’ leading rusher with 126 yards and should see additional carries with freshman running back Keaontay Ingram unlikely to play with a knee injury. The Trojans, meanwhile, have allowed 100-yard rushers in each of their first two games (UNLV’s Lexington Thomas, Stanford’s Bryce Love).
3. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger vs. … himself
Ehlinger has three turnovers this season — two fourth-quarter interceptions at Maryland and a third-quarter fumble against Tulsa, though the fumble turned out to be inconsequential. Still, Ehlinger has a history with costly turnovers, including that lost fumble at the goal line in the second overtime of last year’s 27-24 loss at USC. The Trojans have produced only one turnover in 2018, but they forced Ehlinger into four mistakes last year in Los Angeles.
4. Texas’ 1-1 record vs. USC’s 1-1 record
The Longhorns, who opened the season ranked No. 23 in the country, and the No. 22-ranked Trojans are both 1-1. The Trojans should be able to say they’re more battle-tested, though. USC opened with a 22-point rout of UNLV, a Mountain West team that went 5-7 last year, then were beaten 17-3 by Stanford, which is ranked No. 9 this week. Texas lost to a Maryland team that’s 2-0 but unranked and then had a seven-point win over Tulsa, an American Athletic Conference program that had only two wins in 2017.
5. Reality vs. hype
Regardless of whether USC wants to officially recognize the 2006 Rose Bowl, the last two times the Trojans and Longhorns have met have featured fantastic finishes. Vince Young became a Texas legend with his fourth-and-5 touchdown run to win the 2005 BCS national championship, and last year’s game in L.A. took two overtimes to decide. Television ads have been promoting this game as part of a trilogy, and the spread is at about a field goal and this will be prime time on Fox. But will the Longhorns and Trojans actually put on a show?