Oh, so close. So very close. An instant classic ended in a heartbreaking loss for the Texas Longhorns, as they fell on the road to the No. 4 USC Trojans, 27-24 in double overtime.
Very few people expected Texas to even compete against USC. The entire ESPN College Gameday crew predicted USC to blow the ‘Horns out, but the game was a drastically different story.
On the national stage, under the bright lights in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Texas fought its hearts out. Time and time again, the ‘Horns were able to battle their way back when needed. Whether it was getting a defensive stop or converting a big third or fourth down, they were able to respond.
Every bit of that “Texas fight” was laid all out on the field on Saturday night, as perfectly described by Tom Herman.
How about the freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger?
As the night went on, Ehlinger grew up before our eyes. Yes, there were some growing pains, bad decisions, overthrown balls and slow reads, but his ability to overcome such struggles and lead a 91-yard drive to give Texas a late 17-14 lead was absolutely incredible.
With Vince Young watching on the sideline, the freshman delivered with his best Vince Young-esque go-ahead drive. On 4th and 10, inside the USC 35 with the game on the line, Ehlinger delivered a strike to wide receiver Armanti Foreman for the first down. Then, he sat in the pocket, surveyed the field, rolled to the right and found Armanti once again — this time on the right side of the endzone for a touchdown in a spot nearly identical to where Vince Young lifted Texas to a 2006 Rose Bowl victory over USC in arguably the greatest college football game of all time.
It was perfectly fitting.
Then, the other Sam answered. USC quarterback Sam Darnold showed why he’s a potential future No. 1 overall NFL draft pick. Darnold led a game-tying drive by making some very impressive throws, including a jump pass strike to USC running back Stephen Carr, which put the Trojans in field goal range.
Down 24-17 in overtime, facing a 2nd and 20, Ehlinger delivered a 21-yard strike to wide receiver Collin Johnson, who made numerous impressive catches on the evening.
The 6’6” sophomore wide receiver from California had a monster game, finishing with 191 receiving yards on seven catches back in his home state, and almost all were ridiculously athletic catches. His size and athleticism allowed him to physically beat down on USC cornerback Iman Marshall.
After this catch by Johnson, Ehlinger was then able to hit Lorenzo Joe for an 11-yard strike. The next play, Ehlinger found freshman tight end Cade Brewer in the end zone on a beautifully designed play to tie the game and forced a second overtime.
In the second overtime, Ehlinger powered his way to the USC three-yard line. Then came the fumble.
The freshman finished the game with 298 passing yards on 21 of 40 attempts with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was poised and clutch on key drives at the end, displaying toughness and the ability to lead. It was as impressive as it gets from a freshman quarterback in his second career start.
Ehlinger on Texas' future: "We’re so excited. All the things in this game that we messed up are fixable."— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) September 17, 2017
The ability of the Texas defense to play at a high-level was amazing to see, as well.
The group was flying around all night long. Guys were making tackles in space, filling the right gaps, and locking up the very talented USC wide receivers at times. This was as good of a performance from a Texas defense since the Oklahoma win two years ago. The defensive line did a great job of winning the game up front and setting the tone for the rest of the defense.
Junior linebacker, Malik Jefferson, played the best game of his Longhorn career. Jefferson finished with 11 total tackles and 2.0 tackles for a loss. He did an excellent job on blitzes up the middle and deliver some big hits, making for a stellar performance from a guy that has yet to reach his full potential as a Longhorn.
The performance from junior safety DeShon Elliott was noteworthy, as well. Elliott had an incredible pick-six early on to put the ‘Horns on the board. He later intercepted Darnold early in the fourth quarter, returning it 24 yards to put Texas inside the USC 25. Elliott proved he can be an elite safety in the Big 12 this year. To go along with his two interceptions, Elliott had seven total tackles.
Overall, the defense played amazing as a whole. Hill, Omenihu, Ford, Wheeler were major contributors tonight as well.
The junior linebacker Anthony Wheeler had a really impressive bounce back performance after getting humiliated against Maryland Week 1. He finished with 12 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks.
Todd Orlando had a tremendous gameplan and the defense executed it perfectly. They played their hearts out and left it all the field against the Trojans. This superb performance came against an elite offense, too, which is promising going forward.
Moral victories don’t exist, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing to be upbeat about this performance with plenty of positives to take away from it. A double-overtime loss on the road to a top five team with Darnold at quarterback isn’t too shabby.
Tonight’s game showed that this Texas team has tremendous resiliency and the ability to battle back after making mistakes, which hans’t been the case in recent years. One thing is for sure — Texas is in good hands with Tom Herman at the helm.