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The SMO: The title is back on the table, if only for a moment

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NCAA Football: Southern California at Texas Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Obligatory reminder: The SMO does not deal in logic or reason. It does not care about facts or figures. It is an emotional overreaction to the preceding game.

Apologies for the column delay. The SMO was on a full 72-hour bender post-USC victory. For the first time since Texas v. Notre Dame in 2016, I was on-site for a home win in a meaningful non-conference game. Who knows if this feeling will last past this upcoming Saturday, so best to take full advantage.

Of course, the realist watched Saturday’s game in its appropriate context.

USC — coming off an unimpressive road loss in which it only put up three points at Stanford — is not the same team without Sam Darnold. The Trojans started a true freshman at quarterback and have a significantly weakened group of players than in years past. In reality, the Trojans will probably win seven games this season barring some miraculous turnaround.

Texas struggled initially but found its footing and dominated the Trojans the rest of the way — along with some luck from the Big 12 officials who botched a few calls in the Horns’ favor (yes, it was a safety.)

Additionally, Texas lost Malcolm Roach for six to eight weeks — a hit on defense it really couldn’t afford — and one that will be exploited by better teams.

We won’t really know how much Texas improved until TCU comes to town this Saturday.

That’s what the realist would say. The realist is an absolute moron.

Here is what actually happened on Saturday. Texas awakened the Football Gods in front of a record-breaking 103,000 screaming Texas fans in burnt orange before beating the hell out of one of the most storied bluebloods in college football.

Top recruits all over the country — especially the ones in attendance — watched Texas finally dominate someone in their weight class. They were able to see talented true freshmen make huge plays — like Caden Sterns blocking a field goal before Anthony Wheeler returned it for a touchdown or B.J. Foster stealing the soul from a helpless USC wide receiver or Joshua Moore’s insane touchdown grab — and probably imagined themselves out there with these guys next season.

It’s easy to sell recruits on the opportunity to play in big games in front of the entire population of Tyler, Tex., when they see it firsthand. It isn’t just lip service.

Tom Herman said Monday that Texas can’t afford to play a C+ game and win against talented teams, but when it plays an A-game, it can compete with any team in the country. That’s what happened Saturday.

Offensively, Texas did most everything right, only turning the ball over once on a Daniel Young fumble.

Texas receivers Colin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey combined for 10 catches, 163 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 35 more and a score. More importantly, Ehlinger turned the ball over ZERO times.

Tre Watson and Daniel Young combined for 30 carries and 129 yards while Texas’ newest rushing threat Keontay Ingram was rehabbing an injury. A reliable run game is something Texas dearly missed.

The Horns also converted more than 50 percent of their third downs (10-for-19).

The collective groan from Texas fans after USC’s opening touchdown drive indicated what we’d seen was all too familiar. But Todd Orlando’s defensive squad — led by stud linebacker Gary Johnson who finished with six tackles, four TFLs and one forced fumble — flipped a switch in the second half, holding USC scoreless while limiting USC’s rushing attack to negative-five yards rushing on 16 attempts. That’s insane.

For comparison, USC rushed for 114 yards on 37 attempts against Stanford.

In its previous two games, Texas allowed 143 yards on the ground at Maryland and 189 yards at home against Tulsa.

The secondary struggled a bit giving up some big pass plays, but at least this play was cool.

How about Texas finally having a kicker? It feels like it’s been decades since the Longhorns could confidently send out their field goal unit. Freshman Cameron Dicker, an Austin native, was clutch the entire game — hitting all three of his field goals including two from more than 45 yards out.

The last time Texas signed a kicker from a District 25-6A high school, he became an NFL All-Pro.

And if you would have told me pregame that I was about to see someone block a field goal and return it for a touchdown, I would have sighed. We’ve seen it happen to Texas all too many times. Instead, it was my favorite play of the game. DKR went nuts for it:

I’m not sure Anthony Wheeler has a future as a running back.

The atmosphere was electric all day. The student section was full 30-minutes prior to kickoff. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that in my 15 years of going to games. Bevo Blvd. was packed. The game had less commercials and ads. Scott Fisher didn’t yell at me about the weather. It felt like I was in a different stadium — an alternate reality where Texas home games were enjoyable.

We are going to learn a lot about Texas against TCU this week. The Horned Frogs are coming off what felt like a close loss against Ohio State. The Frogs have the best coach in the Big 12 and — as Herman noted — a lot of speed on offense that could give the young DBs fits.

But that isn’t until Saturday. Right now, we can live thinking and hoping that Texas football is back. Only one FBS team in Texas is undefeated through three games — and that team plays in Denton, Tex.

North Texas might be the best team in the state, but Texas can vie for second. 2-1 is an acceptable non-conference record when you play 11 Power Five teams.

Winning the Big 12 is a completely attainable goal. In fact, every goal is still on the table. Texas is 1-0 through the first game of the toughest stretch of the season. Now, it’s time to go 1-0 to open conference play.

Predictions (Updated)

  • Maryland (VACATED LOSS)
  • Tulsa (WIN)
  • USC (MONUMENTAL PROGRAM ALTERING WIN)
  • TCU (WIN)
  • Kansas State (WIN)
  • OU (WIN)
  • Baylor (WIN)
  • Oklahoma State (WIN)
  • West Virginia (WIN)
  • Texas Tech (WIN)
  • Iowa State (???)
  • Kansas (WIN)

Mailbag

A new feature to include in the SMO will be the mailbag. This is where you can email curryshoff@utexas.edu any immediate thoughts/questions/concerns you have about the game and I’ll include the best ones here. We will try it out next week. Start shooting over some emails.