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Texas overcomes slow start, dismantles No. 22 USC, 37-14

Texas scored the final 34 points of the evening, and many of them came in impressive fashion as the Horns secured the second ranked win of the Tom Herman era and improved to 2-1.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Texas Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A record crowd may have just witnessed the turning point for head coach Tom Herman’s young tenure at Texas. With 103,507 looking on, the largest crowd to ever pack the stands at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the Texas Longhorns overcame a slow start and dominated throughout the final three quarters to top the No. 22 USC Trojans, 37-14.

Few could have anticipated such an outcome following the first quarter.

After the JT Daniels-led Trojans dug themselves into a quick hole with a dropped pass following a blocking in the back penalty for the first two plays from scrimmage, a 3rd and 20 was soon a first down, and on the following third and long, It was Daniels connecting with high school teammate and fellow five-star freshman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, for a 29-yard explosion down the sideline.

Three quick plays later, Stephen Carr broke free through the middle, shed a Brandon Jones tackle and put the first seven points on the board.

The start wasn’t ideal, but Texas responded with a 12-play, 72-yard drive sparked by a pair of Sam Ehlinger connections to Collin Johnson, and capped with a 20-yard field goal from Cameron Dicker “The Kicker.”

After a pair of punts, though, USC was back in the end zone thanks in large part to a 40-yard strike from Daniels to Velus Jones Jr.

The first quarter whistle sounded and the scoreboard read 14-3 USC, and after entering the evening with questions of whether or not Daniels could perform on arguably the most prominent platform of his young, promising career, the true freshman had amassed 129 yards behind a 66-percent completion rate.

That was essentially the extent of the Trojans’ success on Saturday night, though, and the next 34 points put on the scoreboard belonged to the Longhorns as a slow drip became an all-out burnt orange downpour.

The first bit of momentum came courtesy of a 47-yard pitch and catch from Ehlinger to Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who handled the heavy lifting in shaking a would-be tackler and cruising into the end zone to pull Texas back within one score.

One kickoff and one Trojans false start later, the ball was back in burnt orange hands, with Kris Boyd making a play on the ball, and ultimately pulling the ball away from St. Brown to secure an interception on USC”s first play of the drive.

Texas was unable to take full advantage of the turnover, but Dicker The Kicker did pull Texas to within one point, 14-13, behind a career-best 46-yard field goal connection that certainly served as a welcomed sight for Texas fans familiar with kicking struggles in recent seasons.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The following series, USC put itself in position to stop the slow drip, courtesy of yet another explosive play; this time, it was St. Brown securing a 41-yard bomb over Jones to place the Trojans within the Texas 10-yard-line. Just four plays later, though, after Texas declined a USC flag for an illegal formation, Jones redeemed his error with a high-effort goal long stop of Carr after the Trojans kept the offense on the field on 4th and Goal from the one-yard-line.

The mindset in going for it on 4th and Goal, as opposed to taking the points and thus, the lead, may have been identical to that of Texas at times — the defense is now in prime position and just one play away from a safety.

The gamble nearly paid dividends.

A drive that began on the 3-yard line nearly ended with Ehlinger going down in the end zone for what appeared to be a safety.

Controversially, that wasn’t the case, and instead, a punt from the edge of the end zone moved the chains after Talanoa Hufanga ran into and knocked down Texas punter Ryan Bujcevski, prompting a roughing the kicker penalty.

The Horns were unable to capitalize on this gift from the football gods, but at the least, it kept USC’s lead from growing, and ultimately, put the Texas defense in position to force a three and out on the following series.

Twenty-two yards on only nine plays later and the Longhorns entered intermission with the lead, 16-14, as Dicker nailed his second 46-yard field goal of the evening as time expired.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Only a two-point lead against a potentially potent Trojans passing attack, though?

The margin for error was next to existent, and it was a USC error that proved most costly. After a Sam Cosmi false start followed a Texas first down, it was Trojans star linebacker Porter Gustin who blessed the Longhorns with a fresh set of downs behind a roughing the passer penalty. More notably, the senior ended his own night, as he was ejected for targeting upon further review.

Three quick plays later, Ehlinger found freshman receiver Joshua Moore for a 27-yard strike to mark the first time Moore crossed pay dirt at Texas.

What was once a 14-3 USC edge had transformed into a 23-14 Texas advantage in a matter of a mere quarter-plus, and after a Trojan three and out and a Daniel Young fumble in USC’s red zone, the floodgates opened.

However, USC wasn’t without an opportunity to prevent this from coming to fruition.

Despite the vast majority of the momentum favoring Texas, even after the Young fumble, USC attacked, and it did so in convincing fashion.

On the first play of the drive, Daniels found his favorite target, St. Brown, for a 53-yard connection over Jones. The drive stalled and the Trojans were forced to attempt a 50-yard field goal, but a connection would trim Texas’ lead to 23-17 for a single-score deficit.

Chase McGrath’s attempt never crossed the line of scrimmage, as freshman Caden Sterns exploded through the line untouched to block the field goal, which senior linebacker Anthony Wheeler collected for a 46-yard scoop-and-score.

This was no drip. This was a storm surge and the flood gates were fully open.

Texas had responded from its first-quarter deficit with a 27-0 run, and the dominance only continued from that point.

A USC three and out followed, and in building upon its momentum, Texas capped a 50-yard drive with Ehlinger dashing into the end zone to push the lead to 37-14. In what amounted to garbage time, USC and Texas exchanged punts down the stretch, with freshman including BJ Foster flying around the field to put the cherry atop the first ranked win of the Herman era in Austin.

When it was all said and done, the Longhorns had avenged last season’s double-overtime loss to the Trojans, and in doing so, Texas secured win No. 900.

The Longhorns defense led the way, as Todd Orlando’s unit shut the Trojans out for the final three quarters, limited USC’s ground game to minus-five yards on 16 attempts, committed only one penalty; the above-pictured Foster targeting call.

Daniels did finish with 322 yards on 30-48 attempts — 167 of which went to St. Brown — but he was without a single touchdown strike.

The Longhorns offense, on the other hand, was about as balanced as one could ask for from a team still finding its offensive footing and identity.

Without rising freshman running back Keaontay Ingram, who was ruled out with an MCL injury, Texas totaled 160 yards and one score on the ground, with California native Tre Watson leading with way with 72 yards on 18 attempts. Young added 57 yards on 12 carries, with Ehlinger’s 17 attempts equating to 35 yards and a score. The sophomore gunslinger also amassed 223 yards and two touchdowns through the air after completing 15-of-33 attempts.

Humphrey and Johnson were Ehlinger’s favorite targets on the evening, as he connected with the two 10 times for 163 yards and one score.