Following a frustrating loss to Stanford last week, No. 22 USC looked to rebound against Texas on Saturday. Instead, the Trojans continued to struggle in a game that slowly snowballed out of control and ended in a 37-14 loss to the Longhorns at Texas Memorial Stadium.
“For us, we’ve just got to execute better, overall, in all three phases,” head coach Clay Helton said after the game. “It’s going to be all of us doing it together: coaches, players as a family, as a brotherhood. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves right now. We got a conference game coming up.”
USC jumped out to a 14-3 advantage in the first quarter, but Texas reeled off 34 unanswered points to turn the game into a blowout. Freshman quarterback JT Daniels completed 30-of-48 passes for 322 yards, but did not throw a touchdown pass as the offense was shut down in the last three quarters. The Trojans lost back-to-back games by more than 10 points for the first time since 2000.
The Trojans drew first blood when running back Stephen Carr capped off the first drive with a rushing touchdown.
At the start of the second quarter, the Longhorns reached the end zone for the first time as the result of a 40-yard gain due to a missed tackle by redshirt senior cornerback Ajene Harris. Texas regained possession on an interception by senior defensive back Kris Boyd, and again USC was able to hold the longhorns to a field goal to reduce its lead to just 1 point.
The Trojans fired back with a quick drive of their own. Another drive sparked by a big 41-yard aerial gain, well could have been easily broken up, to St. Brown placed the Trojans on the Texas 9-yard line. But Carr was stopped on fourth down, leaving the Trojans with no points at the end of a 76 yard drive.
However, after pinning the Longhorns on their own goal line, the Trojans committed a costly 15-yard roughing the punter penalty that would extended drive another four downs. A big second down sack by senior linebacker Porter Gustin helped USC end the drive, forcing Texas to punt the ball away.
The half ended with a field goal by freshman kicker Cameron Dicker to give Texas its first lead of the night with the Trojans trailing, 16-14.
At half, it was evident that the Trojans needed to prevent Texas from extending drives. The USC defense had done a solid job of limiting completions from sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger — ending the first half with a completion rate of just 7-17 compared to Daniels’ 16-27 — although Ehlinger had gained 132 yards compared to Daniels’ 199.
Texas opened the second half with the same hurry-up offense the Trojans saw in the first half. USC took a huge loss after Gustin was ejected for a targeting foul following a big hit on Ehlinger. Gustin will be inactive for the first half of USC’s game against Washington State next week due to the foul, which sparked a Longhorn touchdown, extending the lead to 23-14.
It looked as if Texas was going to run away with another 7 points on its next possession, but USC found a breath of fresh air in a stripped ball from sophomore safety C.J. Pollard, recovered by junior defensive end Christian Rector. A 53-yard bomb to St. Brown seemed to give USC a good chance of scoring, but everything went wrong for USC when Texas blocked the attempt and returned the ball for a touchdown to increase their lead over the Trojans.
Sophomore kicker Chase McGrath left the field limping following the field goal attempt. Helton said on Sunday that he will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
The game continued to spiral out of the Trojans’ hands after a quarterback-keeper from Ehlinger resulted in a touchdown for Texas’ sixth unanswered score. The Trojans failed to find any form of productive offense for the remainder of the game.
“We didn’t do everything right the whole time, but I’m not walking out of here with my head down and feeling sorry,” offensive coordinator Tee Martin said. “I feel good about where we are. We took a step forward tonight. We’re gonna keep growing and keep getting better.”
USC’s play was riddled with penalties. Ten penalties, most of which were easily preventable, put a USC comeback out of reach for the entire second half.
“We had 99 yards in penalties today. That set us back,” Helton said. “We have to go back and look at the tape. I think we all took turns, offense, defense and special teams. So we’ll look at it and get it cleaned up and get ready for Washington State.”
A notable change between last week’s matchup with Stanford was the Mater Dei alumni duo of Daniels and St. Brown. Against Texas, St. Brown recorded nine receptions on 11 targets for 167 yards. This is a stark contrast to the Stanford game in which he had just two receptions on four targets for 39 yards. St. Brown accredits the passing success to Tee Martin.
“[Martin] had a good passing scheme for us today and we just executed,” St. Brown said. “I have confidence in all my coaches and teammates. We are going to work harder than ever next week and we’re going to see what happens.”
Daniels also said that he was feeling more comfortable with his receivers on Saturday, but did not make excuses.
“I’ve practiced with every receiver on this team with the exception of one, for six weeks. I’ve practiced with [St. Brown] for seven years,” Daniels said. “I’m going to have a little better connection with [St. Brown] off the bat, but I think that that is no longer an excuse. And I think [the other receivers and I] are starting to connect a lot better than we have been.”
It was evident early in the game that the rushing game failed to get started. The Trojans were unable to produce yards on the ground as the “three-headed monster” only ran for 24 yards. Adding in St. Brown and Daniels’ rushing statistics quickly drops the Trojans total rushing to minus five net rushing yards on the night.
“I thought their [defensive line] did a good job of holding the point,” Helton said. “Any time that you look up and you have negative five yards rushing, that’s not very good.”
The Trojans dropped out of the AP Top 25 poll after falling to a 1-2 record. They return to home next week for a Friday night matchup against Washington State.