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Big 12 vs The World

After Rolling USC, The Longhorns Have Reason For Optimism

Texas absolutely handled the Trojans in a 37-14 win. What can we take away from that?

Getty Images - Tim Warner

The Longhorn’s season got off to a terrible start with the loss to Maryland. Then, even though Texas beat Tulsa, a defensive collapse had them hanging on for dear life at the end of the game. However, 22-ranked USC coming to Austin was an opportunity for the Longhorns to turn things around.

For the first 15 minutes of the game, it didn’t look like Texas was going to have anything for USC as the Trojans jumped out to a 14-3 lead. However, while Hook ‘Em Nation was flirting with alcohol poisoning, something interesting happened. The Longhorns stiffened defensively, and began to find some offense. The comeback was on. Texas scored 34 unanswered points over the course of the next three quarters; beating USC handily, 37-14.

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Even though they had a shaky start to the season, the Longhorns appear to be on the upswing going into conference play. So, what can we learn from Texas’s 37-14 victory, which gives the Longhorns their second 2-1 non-conference record since 2012?

Texas Needs Sam Ehlinger To Run The Ball

The statistics don’t really show it, but it’s clear from tonight that Texas needs their sophomore quarterback to take off on both designed runs and broken plays. On multiple occasions, Ehlinger was able to tuck the ball and take off to pick up key first downs.

Ehlinger’s efforts were often necessary because of some of the longer down and distance situations Texas faced against the Trojans. The Longhorns, who ended up averaging 3.3 yards per rush, did not really run the ball effectively until late in the game. Unimpressive runs on first and second downs setup less than optimal second and third downs.

Despite the fact that teams like UNLV and Stanford were able to run almost at will against the Trojans, Texas managed a barely passable 160 yards on the ground. USC often crowded the line of scrimmage, and the Texas offensive line struggled against the Trojans’ defensive front. The Longhorns did enough to get the win tonight, but they may need better performances against some Big 12 opponents.

The Longhorns Were Able To Take Advantage Of Opportunities

There were several points throughout this game where Texas took hold of an opportunity to get some momentum in this game. An early interception by Texas defensive back Kris Boyd was eventually turned into a 46-yard field goal by freshman kicker Cameron Dicker. That second quarter kick cut the Trojan lead to one point, 14-13.

A shanked punt off the foot of USC punter Chris Tilbey gave Texas the ball at midfield with just over two minutes left in the first half. Later in that drive, Texas faced a 2nd and 20 from their own 48 when USC defender Porter Gustin was ejected for targeting. That gave the Longhorns a fresh set of downs at the USC 33.

The Longhorns took advantage of that mistake to setup up their third field goal that put Texas ahead 16-14 going into halftime. For a Texas team set to receive the kick in the third quarter, that field goal gave the Longhorns an opportunity to create a two-score margin. They did, of course, getting a touchdown to take the 23-14 lead.

Texas used the various advantages they were given throughout the game to pull away. That kind of play will benefit them in conference games to come.

Special Teams Was Big For The Longhorns

This was a game where Texas definitely depended on special teams to get the win. The Longhorns were a perfect three-for-three  on field goal kicking, with Dicker’s longest boot at 46 yards.

Texas’ return game was unspectacular but solid all night. Punter Ryan Bujcevski was also decent throughout the game. He should receive recognition mostly for drawing a penalty for roughing the kicker that gave Texas a needed set of fresh downs at one point.

The real special teams play of the game, however, belongs to freshman defensive back Caden Sterns. Sterns blocked a field goal late in the third quarter that Anthony Wheeler scooped and took in for a touchdown. The young freshman was able to speed in off the edge to swat the ball back, and he almost caught it and rain the ball in himself. That touchdown more or less sealed the game for Texas:

The Texas Defense Is Making Progress

Through two games, the Texas defense had not played especially poorly, but were nonetheless rather pedestrian in a few areas. Early Saturday evening, those tendencies seemed like they might add up to a scoring frenzy by USC. Despite putting the Trojans in multiple third down situations on their opening drive, the Longhorns gave up gains of 17, 23, and 29 yards.

With USC up 14-10, however, senior cornerback Kris Boyd came up with a big interception at the beginning of the second quarter. That turnover seemed to wake up the Longhorn defense, which would go on to make a goal line stand on the next possession and not allow the Trojans to score again.

On defense, the Longhorns seemed to get a better as the game wore on, and virtually shut down any attempts the Trojans made to run the ball. That put all of the pressure on true freshman J.T. Daniels to beat them. The young man had a good game overall – a 63 percent completion percentage and 322 yards through the air – but Texas came up big with defensive stops.

As the Longhorns head into the game against TCU next week, their defense appears to be making some strides.

This One Was Special

Beating USC on Saturday marked the program’s 900th win. Only Michigan and Yale have more all-time wins. The Longhorns might not be the only iconic program to eclipse the 900 mark this season, either. Notre Dame needs just three more wins. The only Big 12 team close to Texas in win total is Oklahoma with 885 wins, which means they will likely surpass 900 wins next season. For now, Texas is in rarefied air, and they should live this one up. For multiple reasons.

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