With 34 unanswered points and a 37-14 margin, the final score indicates a blowout, but separation didn’t occur until halfway through the third quarter, and a single play allowed that cushion to come to fruition. Several plays prior to that point likely altered the outcome in some sense, from the Texas Longhorns swinging momentum into its favor to a controversial call from which the USC Trojans seemingly never bounced back.
Here are five plays that altered the outcome of Texas’ 23-point win over then-No. 22 USC:
Lil’Jordan Humphrey breaks free for a 47-yard touchdown:
Texas digging itself into a quick 14-3 hole was far from an ideal start, but Lil’Jordan Humphrey handled the heavy lifting to cut the deficit to a single score and swing some momentum to the Longhorns sideline.
On 3rd and 4, Humphrey made the most of what would have been a mere six-yard gain otherwise, spinning free from Ajene Harris and scampering 41 more yards into the end zone for Texas’ first touchdown of the evening. Had Humphrey’s reception added only enough to move the chains, would the Texas offense have been able to produce another eight or nine yards to move into field goal range, or continue to march down the field? There’s no way of knowing now, but without Humphrey breaking that tackle and adding 41 yards after the catch, 14-10 could have easily been only 14-6, or even remained at 14-3.
Kris Boyd steals interception away from Amon-Ra St. Brown:
Without Humphrey’s 47-yard touchdown catch and run, cornerback Kris Boyd’s interception may have never occurred. Following Texas’ touchdown and subsequent kickoff, USC’s first play on the following drive — a Chuma Edoga false start excluded — featured JT Daniels targeting his favorite pass catcher, Amon-Ra St. Brown. A less than perfect pass became a 50-50 ball between Boyd and St. Brown, and the former came away with the football as Boyd ripped it from St. Brown as the fell to the turf.
Suddenly, Texas had the ball on its own 49-yard line and six short plays player, Cameron Dicker connected on a confidence-building 46-yard field goal attempt for the Horns’ second score in three minutes.
A controversial missed safety call that robbed USC of two points, and maybe momentum:
As FOX Sports analyst Joel Klatt said, “That should have been a safety no question about it.” Virtually every angle revealed that Sam Ehlinger was down with the ball still entirely in the end zone, yet even after further review, Texas was somehow granted a gift from the football gods and retained possession on its own 1-yard line.
Shortly thereafter, a roughing the punter penalty provided Texas with a fresh set of downs before ultimately punting it away from its own 8-yard line. USC still ended up with the ball in Texas territory, but nevertheless, it appears the Trojans were robbed of two points, and far more notably, momentum.
For whatever reason, despite still leading and being within two points at halftime, USC played a bit deflated from that point forward and Texas took complete control, adding another 24 points to its total, including a 46-yard field goal to capture the lead entering halftime.
USC star linebacker Porter Gustin ejected for targeting:
On the first drive of the second half, Texas’ offense was moving the chains a bit, but putting points on the board was far from a guarantee. After yet another Sam Cosmi false start forced Texas to play from behind the chains, Ehlinger’s pitch to Collin Johnson netted only two yards, which would have resulted in a 2nd and 13 on the Texas 47-yard line.
Before Ehlinger could see the ball reach his receiver, though, he was headed to the turf and his helmet was sent flying, along with a flag for roughing the passer. Not only did USC linebacker Porter Gustin’s error allow the Texas offense out of an unfavorable position and instead move the chains into Trojan territory, but after further review, Gustin was ejected for targeting. As a result, USC was forced to play without its senior star for the final 27 minutes of what was, at the time, a two-point game.
Just moments after Gustin’s targeting penalty pushed Texas into USC territory, Ehlinger connected with Joshua Moore for a 27-yard touchdown strike to increase the Longhorns lead to 23-14.
Caden Sterns blocks a 50-yard FG attempt, Anthony Wheeler returns it for a TD:
There may not have been any single play throughout the Longhorns 37-14 win over the Trojans more meaningful to the outcome than Caden Sterns bursting through the line of scrimmage, blocking Chase McGrath’s 50-yard field goal attempt, and Anthony Wheeler scooping and scampering for a 46-yard touchdown.
At the time, Texas lead was only 23-14 with 6:38 remaining in the third quarter, and McGrath connecting on his attempt would have trimmed that edge to a single score, 23-17.
There’s a fairly substantial difference between a six-point lead and the pressure to respond with plenty of football still to be played, and Texas enjoying a 16-point cushion and every bit of momentum behind what felt like a knockout blow. Who knows how things would have turned out had Sterns and Wheeler not combined for the biggest momentum-shifting play of the game, but when a herd of Longhorns was stampeding unimpeded down the sidelines, the reality began to set in that Texas was just minutes away from arguably its most notable win in recent memory.