Texas travels to Los Angeles for a huge primetime matchup against the team that they defeated to win the 2005 National Championship: the USC Trojans. As expected, there’s a lot of hype surrounding the game in the Coliseum, despite UT’s opening loss to Maryland. Can Texas, current 15.5 point underdogs to the Trojans, shock the college football world and get Tom Herman his first marquee win in burnt orange?
Texas entered this fall with tons of hype. Shane Buechele looked great at times in 2016, so there was a lot of optimism surrounding the quarterback position. The Longhorns are always loaded with four- and five-star prospects, and a lot of the key players are a year older. Oh yeah, and the Longhorns hired former Houston head coach Tom Herman, who was the hottest coach on the market.
Unfortunately, a disappointing opening loss has cooled the hype in Austin.
Buechele didn’t look amazing, and he left the first game with an injury that kept him out of the second game. The talented defense gave up 51 points to Maryland at home. People started to realize that no matter how great of a coach Herman may be, turning a program around does not happen over night.
That said, the Longhorns have the golden opportunity of notching a huge momentum-shifting win over a team that many have pegged as a College Football Playoff hopeful and national title contender. Can Texas pull it off?
Here are three keys that will need to happen.
Run the football.
Texas showed the ability to run the football in a huge way last weekend. Granted, it was against San Jose State; however it showed that the Longhorns can still be productive in the run game after D’Onta Foreman departed for the NFL. Chris Warren played like an absolute beast as he found open running lanes, trucked helpless defenders, and reached the end zone twice.
With the uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position at the moment, it appears as if Texas has found an identity. Warren rushed for a total of 166 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns. The highlight of the game was his 41-yard score in which he took a direct snap on third down and ran over the San Jose defense en route to a big score.
That wasn’t his only highlight of the game, either.
It’s also worth noting that Kyle Porter added 72 yards and a touchdown and Toneli Carter chipped in 56 yards on only six carries last Saturday.
As a team, the Longhorns ran for 406 yards. If the ‘Horns are going to pull off the upset, running the football time and time again is essential.
Time of possession.
This goes hand-and-hand with running the football. The more that the Longhorns run the football, the more that the offense will have the ball. Which would then limit the amount of possessions that Sam Darnold and the explosive USC offense gets.
It’s no secret how dangerous USC is. With a Heisman candidate leading the charge at quarterback, a legit number one receiver in Deontay Burnett, and a pair of lethal running backs in Texas native Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr, the Trojans are a threat to score from anywhere on the field. In order for Texas to prevent a shootout from occurring, the best defense for the Longhorns would to be to hold on to the ball as long as possible.
Wear the Trojans down by running Warren and Porter down their throats.
This will be a key factor if Texas were to win on Saturday night.
Win the turnover battle.
It may seem obvious, but Texas needs to win the turnover battle in a big way.
Darnold is a lethal gunslinger who can hurt just about any defense in college football. However, the likely future first-round selection has been prone to turning the ball over. Through just two games this season, Darnold has already thrown four interceptions. The USC star threw two interceptions against Western Michigan in a surprisingly close season-opening game. Then in a huge battle versus Stanford, Darnold threw two more. Fortunately for the Trojans, it hasn’t cost them yet, netting in just three points for the opposition. How long will it be before it catches up, though?
Can Holton Hill record another non-offensive touchdown?
On the flip side, Texas needs to take care of the ball, too. Smart decision making by whoever is in a quarterback — Buechele, Sam Ehlinger, or even Jerrod Heard — is vital in a big game like this. The Texas offense needs to take what the Trojans defense gives them. Forcing the ball into tight windows is not the way to go. If Texas can limit mistakes, the Longhorns will have a shot in this game.
What are your three keys for a Texas victory?