Despite all the doubters and negative buzz surrounding this program the past couple of weeks, the Texas Longhorns delivered when it was needed most. Tom Herman captured his most important win and second win over a ranked opponent with a 37-14 victory over the formerly No. 22 ranked USC Trojans. This was the building-block type of win that this program needed going forward in search of taking that next step towards national relevance.
There were plenty of positives from Saturday night’s dominant win, but there are areas in need of improvement heading into Big 12 play as well. The win was impressive enough to rid the ugly category from this piece. Texas will now attempt to ride this momentum into next week’s test against their kryptonite — the TCU Horned Frogs.
Special Teams play
Texas has been in search of a legitimate kicker since the Justin Tucker days. After Saturday night, that no longer appears be a problem. The Austin native kicker, Cameron Dicker, is the truth. Dicker the Kicker came up clutch in the first half, nailing all three of his field goal attempts. This included a 20-yard chip shot and two 46-yarders — the latter put Texas ahead 16-14 to close out the first half.
Freshman Caden Sterns made the play-of-the-game, blocking a 50-yard field goal attempt that was scooped up by Anthony Wheeler and returned for a touchdown. This single play shifted all the momentum towards the Longhorns and was the ultimate difference between a possible six-point game and a 16-point game.
Special teams play is known for being the deciding factor of close games, as Texas has experienced in the past. This one may not have been close but the special teams play completely changed the outcome of this game.
Third-down efficiency, Sam Ehlinger’s composure
Last year’s offense ranked 80th nationally on third-down conversions. Against USC, the Longhorns converted 10-of-19 (52.6 percent) third-down attempts. When Texas was able to get into third and manageable situations, they ran designed quarterback run plays with Ehlinger. Similar to the 18-Wheeler package from a couple years ago, these play-calls require executed blocking and the offensive line/running backs were able to do that for Ehlinger. When faced with longer third downs, the offensive line held their ground pass blocking and provided Ehlinger enough time to stay in the pocket to find open receivers.
Ehlinger showed a different kind of poise and leadership that we haven’t seen before. He controlled the pace of the game, made the right pre-snap adjustments and didn’t force any tight throws. While he only completed 45 percent of his passes and missed some big throws down the field to speedster Devin Duvernay, he managed the game exactly how he needed to.
Johnson was a man possessed out there. He had four tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, and a sack. This performance was enough to earn him Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Johnson’s lateral quickness and closing speed on the ball really popped out. Learning behind Malik Jefferson as the lead anchor of the defense, he has filled his role nicely thus far.
Todd Orlando’s stout run defense held USC to -5 rushing yards. Stephen Carr had a 23-yard touchdown run to close out USC’s opening drive, which makes this stat even more incredible.
I wish college football would stop making quarterbacks look bad by negating their rushing yards on each sack they take but holding a team below zero rushing yards is special regardless.
While USC failed to mix up the pass-run game in its favor, Texas’ front seven set the tone. Chris Nelson plugged up-the-middle; allowing no running lanes, defensive ends contained the edge, and the linebackers pursued the ball very well.
Shoutout to AD Chris Del Conte and his new student-section policy for home games. It’s amazing how the students can fill the stands with an efficient system that gets everyone inside the stadium on time.
This photo was taken two hours before game time near the southeast end zone, the new location for the student section.
Impressive early arrival for the Texas student section. pic.twitter.com/HOOtubkeyX— TrojanSports.com (@USC_Rivals) September 15, 2018
103,507 fans set a new attendance record at Darrell K Royal—Texas Memorial Stadium. The fans delivered in what was probably the best home-crowd since the Notre Dame game in 2016. Players fed off the energy of the crowd once they were able to get going.
Texas had seven penalties for 46 yards and five of those were from simple five-yard pre-snap penalties. These small setbacks can disrupt a whole drive right from the beginning. This offense needs to stop shooting itself in the foot with inexcusable penalties on first and second down so it can get into more manageable third downs.
By the way, that new 25-second play-clock rule after kickoffs is complete garbage and pointless. But either way, Ehlinger needs to become aware of it so they no longer start drives 15 yards from the sticks.
Safety coverage on deep balls
Freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels completed three passes of more than 40 yards and every single one occurred when a receiver got open behind the back end of the secondary. Credit Daniels for making these impressive throws, but Texas safeties cannot afford to be five yards out of position on every deep ball.
Now in his junior year, safety Brandon Jones should no longer have the busted coverage problems that haunted him during his first two seasons. Jones got beat deep multiple times. On one play, Jones was in great position for an interception that went through his hands into the hands of a USC receiver. Against air-raid attacking offenses in the Big 12, the back-end coverage will have to be much better.
Dating back to last season, this team has been plagued with slow starts resulting in early double-digit deficits. Falling behind 14-3 silenced the crowd and increased the pressure of each play, which usually forces the Longhorns to play tight. However, the team responded in a big way and showed its potential when playing loose. Playing catch-up against better teams would not be ideal because you have to execute so well the rest of the game and cannot afford to make many mistakes. Putting together a complete four-quarter game is something Texas needs to show against tougher in-conference opponents like TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
With a still questionable offense against an elite defensive-minded coach like Gary Patterson, the Longhorns need to be ready from the opening kickoff come Saturday.