Following a bounce-back 56-0 victory over San Jose State, the Texas Longhorns were tasked with prepping for arguably their toughest task of the season — the No. 4 USC Trojans on the road. The ‘Horns will enter the matchup as double-digit underdogs, but Texas does boast the talent to at least remain competitive.
We got together to discuss what must happen for Texas to do just that — remain competitive — in this week’s edition of the BON Roundtable.
The Maryland loss obviously altered things a bit, but how would your expectations for this season change if Texas comes back from California 2-1?
Cody Daniel: I wouldn’t bet much aside from a six-pack of Ramen noodles on that actually happening, but if Texas did come back from California at 2-1, my expectation would be 8-4. It would be a huge step in the right direction, but Texas still has No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 18 Kansas State and No. 20 TCU on the schedule.
Wes Crochet: My original expectation of 8-9 wins would likely be back in play because this would likely mean Texas took a solid step forward. I don't see it happening this week though.
Wesley Watts: I started the season saying 10 wins, after Maryland I adjusted to 7-5. With that being said, if Texas manages to beat USC, I could reasonably see 8-9 wins.
Anthony Rizzo: My expectations would alter from a 7-5 season to more of a 9-10-win season. Beating a top five team on the road with arguably the 2018 No. 1 draft pick at quarterback goes a long way. This would give the ‘Horns lots of momentum heading into the start of Big 12 play.
Robert Garcia: I had Texas losing to USC, OU, OK ST and taking a 4th loss on the road against either TCU or WVU and finishing 8-4 under Herman's debut season. If Texas can pull a major upset on the road at The Coliseum, it would certainly alter my expectations for the remainder of the season. I think Texas would go on to win out — with a single loss in Dallas to OU being the exception, and finishing 10-2.
We've seen two vastly different examples of Texas' ground game so far. If USC has one weakness, it's run defense, so how should Texas distribute carries this weekend?
Cody: Chris Warren III has to get as many carries as he can handle. Beyond that, I’d distribute what’s left between Kyle Porter and the freshmen, Daniel Young and Toneil Carter. Each of the latter looked more impressive than Porter against SJSU and Texas will need every yard it can get against USC.
Wes: Feed Chris Warren as long as the man can eat, and fill the leftover carries with whoever else, including some to Jerrod Heard.
Wesley: I personally am not the biggest fan of running back by committee. I think Chris Warren has to get the bulk of the carries, both in this game and for the rest of the season.
Anthony: Warren should get at least 20 touches on the ground on Saturday. Porter struggles to break tackles at times and making guys miss one-on-one, which worries me against better defenses. USC doesn’t have a very good run defense, but they still have lots of athletes on the defensive side of the ball. Put Porter in when Warren needs a break, but for the most part, Warren should be the guy running the ball. Heard should get some carries in the wildcat again this week too.
Robert: I think the coaches are right to try to rotate carries between Warren and Porter, but Warren needs to get the larger bulk of the touches against USC. I would also like to see Carter have a few more opportunities, but I expect that to be limited against an opponent like USC. We have a lot of young talent, but in the end — you go with your proven starter when you take on USC on the road — we have to ride Warren if we want to exploit USC's run defense.
With Shane Buechele coming off a shoulder injury and Sam Ehlinger adding the dimension of a run-threat behind center, which QB would you rather see start on Saturday?
Cody: Shane Buechele; no question about it. Sure, Ehlinger looked good in his debut, but when you’re on the road against USC and have to put up points in bunches, you want the more proven passer with far more experience.
Wes: Though I liked Ehlinger's ability to extend plays and go through his progressions, Buechele is probably the right answer here until further notice.
Wesley: Because of the gravity of the game (and the fact that he already has a W on a huge stage), I would rather see Shane. However, UT's ceiling is higher with Ehlinger under center.
Anthony: Although Ehlinger may be the future, I would much rather see the more experienced Buechele as the guy on Saturday. They are both very talented quarterbacks, but Buechele's experience of playing in true road games last season gives me more confidence in him over Ehlinger.
Robert: As much as I prefer Buechele's passing ability, I think the run game of Ehlinger is what could keep Texas "in it" during a close game — and give the ‘Horns a chance to win. Ehlinger has an elusiveness that can bail us out when we need it and potentially keep drives alive. I think that QB run threat also keeps the Trojan defense in check and keeps our playbook open. So as much as I prefer Buechele's passing ability, by a slight margin, I would give the nod to Ehlinger. Again, with USC's run defense being the only open door for Texas, we have to leverage every strength and advantage possible and Ehinger adds to that run advantage for Texas.
Sam Darnold obviously gets the praise, but which three USC playmakers are you most concerned about having their way with Texas' offense/defense?
Cody: Running backs Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr, as well as wide receiver Deontay Burnett. Texas will probably score plenty of points in this one, but the ‘Horns will have to keep up and slowing that trio of explosive playmakers will go a long way towards that hope.
Wes: Running back Ronald Jones II, and wide receivers Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell Jr.
Wesley: I think obviously Deontay Burnett poses a huge threat, but after watching what Maryland was able to do to this Texas defense, Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr have my attention. If Texas is going to win this game, they need to make the Trojans one dimensional. If Darnold is slinging it and they are able to get production out of the backfield, it's going to be a long day for the Horns.
Anthony: Wide receiver Deontay Burnett, the 1-2 punch of Jones and Carr at running back, and safety Marvell Tell III.
Robert: Deontay Burnett — he's going to catch every ball that Darnold throws his way and I'm not sure we have anyone that can cover him. Then, Steven Mitchell is always a threat and an easy target for Darnold. Finally, on the ground, I worry about our ability to stop Ronald Jones II.
From what you know about USC, what concerns you the most about matchups they may be able to exploit vs. Texas?
Cody: Aside from Holton Hill, Texas’ secondary hasn’t been great and USC’s wide receivers are electric. And if the ‘Horns run defense resembles anything close to what we saw against Maryland, Ronald Jones II is going to be a Heisman candidate on Sunday morning.
Wes: Until Texas' secondary can show they can be relied upon to play more consistent and smart coverage against competent passers, all of the secondary is a concern.
Wesley: USC's ability to present a balanced attack even when they have a future top 3 pick under center is impressive. The Texas defense is going to have to be firing on all cylinders on Saturday night. Darnold is going to get his, but as I previously mentioned, the key to the game is going to be stopping the run.
Anthony: The mix of the elite run game and elite pass game from USC scares me a lot. This very well could be the best USC offense since the 05’ National Championship team that lost to Texas. Darnold can thread our still “a work in progress” secondary if the d-line struggles to develop a pass rush. Texas cannot let USC get in a rhythm in both the run and pass game. Herman stresses the term “alignment,” so lets see if the defense lives up to it on Saturday.
Robert: Our secondary. I think we have talent as "potential," but mistakes will plague us and we will be exploited over the top. Darnold to Burnett is just waiting to happen. We will let it.
USC will serve as a nice preliminary before Texas faces No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 18 Kansas State and No. 9 Oklahoma State. Aside from a win, what would Texas need to show you to feel confident the 'Horns have any chance in the following games?
Cody: Just keep it close and competitive. Prove that they can hang in there and trade blows with some of the nation’s better teams, because they’ll need to do just that in the coming weeks.
Wes: A more polished and fine-tuned game. Texas's 56-0 win last week still felt like a 28-7 win in some regards. This team still is too far from being in sync - excuse me, "alignment."
Wesley: I believe in moral victories. If Texas remains in the game Saturday and loses a close one, I think they’ll have earned my confidence, and the confidence of a lot of people in Austin going forward, especially in rivalry games where anything goes. But if the ‘Horns get blown out on Saturday, those three games will look rather impossible.
Anthony: Show some fight/grit and the ability to execute on the road in a hostile environment. After seeing the ‘Horns struggle on the road multiple times during the Charlie Strong era, playing a very competitive ballgame against a team like USC on the road would mean a lot for this team. This would give me lots of confidence in this team being able to go 3-2 during this tough upcoming 5-game stretch.
Robert: I think if Texas can compete and hang with the Trojans through four quarters without folding shop at any point in the game, then we can take an L and still go on to defeat some tough conference foes. It's Herman's first real, actual opponent and first ranked foe at Texas - the ‘Horns just needs to show they can hang with the big boys and COMPETE!
If Texas is going to pull off this massive upset over a championship-caliber team, what must happen for the 'Horns?
Cody: Warren must have a field day, Buechele will need to connect on a few deep bombs — preferably for touchdowns — and the defense will need to come up with two or three turnovers. Also, no missed field goals. Texas can’t leave points on the field and beat USC.
Wes: Good coverage, sound tackling, and a huge day from Chris Warren.
Wesley: Under 40 yards in penalties and no turnovers. Texas has the talent on both sides of the ball to play with USC, however, they are notorious for beating themselves. If the Longhorns don’t beat themselves, I believe the Trojans will have a hard time beating them.
Anthony: The ‘Horns must score first. Win the turnover battle. Create explosive plays on the offensive side of the ball, just enough to give yourself a chance to win.
Robert: Sam Darnold will have to make mistakes. Another couple of INTs could keep Texas in the game, and Orlando can help push those mistakes on defense. Texas will need to play true, mistake-free football that shows game control, time of possession dominance, and elimination of penalties. Lastly, we need to be more balanced on offense. We cannot be a one-dimension run team and have a chance to put USC's defense on its toes — we have to develop a real threat in the passing game to have a chance to win at all. Yes, we want to leverage the run against their defense, but that won’t happen if they don't take us seriously in the air.
Cody: 41-27 USC.
Wes: USC 42, Texas 24.
Wesley: 49-45 USC. Shane Buechele leads Texas down the field late in the fourth to give the ‘Horns a 45-42 lead, but leaves too much time for what will be the 2017 Heisman trophy winner.
Anthony: 38-30 USC.
Robert: USC 48, Texas 31.