As the Texas Longhorns head west to take on No. 4 USC, the narrative seems to echo the last trip to the Coliseum: Can Texas keep up with the Trojans? In spite of what appears to be a lopsided matchup, the Longhorns match up favorably with USC in several key areas, and if Texas can capitalize in these facets of the game, the outcome on Saturday may also echo January of 2006.
Third Down Conversions:
The offensive talent at USC is undeniable, led by quarterback Sam Darnold, who slates to be one of the first quarterbacks selected whenever he chooses to make the jump to the NFL. Getting that squad off the field is a must. The Trojans rank first nationally in third down conversions with a 73.9 percent conversion rate through their first two games. However, Texas is no slouch on third downs defensively, ranking No. 16 in the country, stopping opponents on 79.3 percent of their attempts.
In that same vein, when two teams loaded with offensive talent match up, it’s the team that does the most with each opportunity that comes out on top. USC moves the ball at a blistering pace, racking up 8.1 yards per play, leading to 91 points this season. With their short 60 minutes of time on the field this year, that means that the Trojans score 1.5 points per minute while on the field. Texas is not far behind in offensive efficiency. Their 97 points in 69 minutes gives them roughly 1.4 points per minute, but they do it far less efficiently, only managing 6.37 yards per play.
Turnovers and Defensive Touchdowns:
This will have to be the big money-maker for Texas if it’s going to beat the Trojans on Saturday. In spite of his talent, Darnold actually sits at the bottom of the nation for interceptions thrown, with four in two games. Texas fans are well-aware of their team’s proclivity to force turnovers, as the Horns sit atop the nation with their three defensive touchdowns. If the Longhorns can manage to force USC into turning the ball over and creating points off of those turnovers, it will go a long way to boost the offense in a tough matchup.
The Longhorns are clear underdogs this Saturday, a familiar position for a team who has struggled mightily in recent history, but they may not be as outmatched as some think.
If the offense can find a way to capitalize on every opportunity, buoyed by a defense playing up to its immense level of talent, the Longhorns can set themselves up with momentum heading into the Big 12 season next week.