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BON Round Table: Can Texas get over the hump against No. 22 USC?

Can Texas avoid beating itself? Which Sam Ehlinger will we see? Is Tom Herman’s first ranked win in Austin coming this weekend?

Texas v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After slogging to a 1-1 start, the Texas Longhorns will be presented with an opportunity to re-write the narrative surrounding their slow start if Tom Herman’s program can top the No. 22 USC Trojans.

The Burnt Orange Nation staff got together to discuss the likelihood of that happening, expectations for Sam Ehlinger, and what it will take for Texas to advance to 2-1.

A ranked win, putting Tulsa in the past, a 1-0 start to a loaded four-game stretch, dozens of elite recruits and commits on campus at a point in which Texas A&M is surging… With all of that in mind, Is it fair to say this may be the most important weekend of Tom Herman’s tenure at Texas?

Cody Daniel — Co-Editor: I would say so. With a win, Texas may likely finishes this brutal stretch at 3-3, or even 4-2 with some luck, and likely lands a pledge or two in the coming days. Lose and 2-4 or even 1-5 become a very real possibility for a coach who would be a mere 8-8 at Texas with two top 15 teams coming in the next three weeks. More than anything, beating USC would be about proving to the fans, recruits, and even the players in the program that Texas can get over the hump and win these kinds of games.

Anthony Rizzo — Contributor: Yes, by far. This is a critical time for the future of this program. While we’re only two games into the season, everyone knows the momentum of recruiting in Texas has shifted towards Texas A&M after their performance against Clemson. We’re in year two of the Herman era and he is currently recruiting the second group of his own recruits (2017 class doesn’t count). To build this program up, he needs to win to have consistent success on the recruiting trail and it starts Saturday night.

Corey Elliot — Contributor: Yes, and if Texas loses because of a miserable night on offense — with most of Texas’ offensive weapons from last year (when they almost beat USC in L.A.) on the field Saturday night, playing at home, facing a true freshman QB that looked lost a week ago at Stanford — I’ll even go a step further and say it will truly be time to part ways with Tim Beck. Herman was once coveted because of great offensive mind. A week after Texas struggled to put 28 on Tulsa, another night of offensive woes will put Herman on a hot seat to take over the offense entirely.

Kameron McAfee — Contributor: Definitely. This game has a “must win” feel to it. Herman has to show that he can win a big game when it matters, and this weekend could define how the rest of his career plays out at Texas. There’s not much more to it in my opinion. Either get a win, and you shut everybody up (for now), or lose, and feel that seat get a little hotter.

Texas has obviously struggled out of the gates, but what would a win over a ranked Trojans team do for your feelings on where this season is headed?

Cody Daniel: It wouldn’t be enough for me to think Texas is back or ready to knock off Oklahoma or anything, but a win, simply put, would avoid the wheels falling off before Texas sees four more ranked teams in No. 15 TCU, No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 24 Oklahoma State, and No. 14 West Virginia, and creeps towards its 2017 loss total. Upsetting TCU or Oklahoma State wouldn’t seem as far-fetched as it does after two games.

Anthony Rizzo: A win may not rid the loss against Maryland but it would do justice and qualify as a somewhat successful 2-1 start. This is the type of game that can dictate the rest of the season, especially since Texas has a brutally tough start to Big 12 play. I’d be much more optimistic for a possible 8-9 win season coming off a win over USC.

Corey Elliot: A win over USC this weekend would show me that this Texas program has finally learned how to win. Whether it’s a 10-point victory or a game winning drive in the final four minutes — it doesn’t matter. Pressure is already on this program. A win Saturday says they have the stuff to win games that makeup the difference between 8-4 and 10-2.

Kameron McAfee: I would definitely feel better than I do now. But if there is anything I’ve learned over the last eight seasons or so, it’s that this program can disappoint just as quickly as it can impress. Even with a win, I would be hesitant to buy into whether or not they can consistently play at a high level for the rest of the season.

Texas is 8-3 under Tom Herman when the Horns rush for at least 100 yards, but Texas hasn’t won a game when it doesn’t reach at least 100 yards on the ground. With Keaontay Ingram doubtful, does Texas have its way with a struggling USC run defense? Who leads the Longhorns in rushing yards?

Cody Daniel: USC’s run defense is a bit better than the raw numbers, but they have been susceptible to big plays. Unfortunately for Texas, Ingram is the most likely to bust big plays. That said, I think Watson and Young handle their own, and the running game gets some contributions from Ehlinger as the team finishes with around 150 yards on the ground. Watson leads with somewhere around 70 yards.

Anthony Rizzo: UNLV gashed USC for 308 yards on the ground so the rest of the running backs are more than capable to succeed. If the offense can stick with a nice tempo and stay consistent with the play-calling, I expect the Longhorns to eclipse the 150 rushing yard mark. Former Pac-12 foe, Tre Watson, will lead the team in yards.

Corey Elliot: Texas will surpass 100 yards. And I’ll go with Sam Ehlinger as the leading rusher with most of those yards (about 60) on designed run plays where he has the option to take off as opposed to being flushed from the pocket.

Kameron McAfee: If Ingram can’t go, they probably roll with a rotation between Watson, Young, and maybe even Carter. With that being said, my pick is Sam. I expect him to be a key factor in the ground game, especially if the weather gets nasty or the passing game isn’t there early. Of course the question still remains... Can the O-Line get a push and open up some running lanes?

Sam Ehlinger has moments where he thrives in the spotlight, as he did last season in the fourth quarter vs. USC and second half vs. Oklahoma, but also several moments in which his mistakes cost Texas the game. Which Sam are we going to see on Saturday?

Cody Daniel: I think the flow of the game will dictate that. Aside from that fourth quarter vs. Maryland, Ehlinger has played exceptionally well. I think we’ll continue to see that Sam on Saturday, but if he’s tasked with orchestrating a game-winning drive, I think an error is more likely than a heroic moment until he can prove otherwise.

Anthony Rizzo: Hopefully, the Sam we saw in the Coliseum last year. He’s going to have to make some plays with his feet and be mobile when needed. As a passer, he’ll have to avoid those mistakes and utilize the big targets — Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey.

Corey Elliot: We saw Bad Sam in the fourth quarter at Maryland, a la 2017 Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. By now, it would seem likely that Sam has learned he has to stop trying to make the play in close games and instead just make the right play. I’m going to say this is the night Sam takes a giant step in his game management skills and plays smart football.

Kameron McAfee: I’ve been a doubter up to this point but I believe he lives for the big game and I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows out. If the offense stalls out early and fails to get anything going, I think Herman has no choice but to give Shane a shot.

With USC also falling short of its early expectations and having plenty flaws of its own, what would it take for Texas to come out on top?

Cody Daniel: Texas’ defense will have to prevent big plays and get plenty of pressure on the true freshman JT Daniels, and the offense producing some big plays of its own will be necessary since the ground game, although more reliable, isn’t expected to shoulder the load without Ingram.

Anthony Rizzo: Controlling the pace of the game, playing to the advantage of the crowd and make winning plays. Scoring first to get the crowd going would be key. Through two games, the Longhorns have lacked energy but that shouldn’t be a problem come 7:00 p.m. CT.

Corey Elliot: Relentlessly. Pressure. The. True. Freshman. Quarterback. I wrote about the element of a Texas pass rush earlier this week. Texas has the weapons on offense, I don’t worry whether it will score. Just go watch the USC vs. Stanford tape — the Cardinal made JT Daniels uncomfortable, effectively rendering him incapable.

Kameron McAfee: Week after week it always seems like the opponent is always more prepared and gets off to a better start out of the gate than Texas. If they want to win, that has to be reversed. To me, the key is the defense. They have to be able to make stops early to keep the crowd into it. I’ve seen the defense get shredded too many times early in the game and that has to change on Saturday. I hope they come out and play like their hair is on fire.

Prediction time: Who wins and why?

Cody Daniel: I have USC escaping with a 23-20 win. Until Texas proves it can get out of its own way and outlast a prominent opponent, it’s difficult to confidently predict a win. Without critical mistakes, Texas is 2-1, but that’s a big if.

Anthony Rizzo: Texas 24, USC 17. It’s do or die time for the Longhorns and I fully expect this team to respond to all the negativity surrounding our fan base. Texas is the better team and Todd Orlando’s defense against the 18-year-old freshman quarterback JT Daniels will be the difference.

Corey Elliot: I’ll stay consistent with my above takes: Texas wins because it absolutely has to. Sam takes a big step and improves his game management abilities, and the defense has a coming out party at JT Daniels’ expense. Longhorns hit the reset button on the season with a 26-17 win.

Kameron McAfee: USC - 24, Texas - 28. A key defensive stop and some late game heroics from Sam will give Texas the edge in this one.