Quarterback Advantage: USC
Shane Buechele is expected to return to the field this week after missing lastSaturday’s game with a shoulder injury. This is a welcome sight for Texas fans everywhere, but not the piece that is going to push the Longhorns over the edge. The sophomore sensation is going to need to play the best game of his career, and then some, if he wants any chance of leading his team to an upset.
Every casual college football fan knows the name Sam Darnold. The redshirtsophomore Heisman contender and likely top-3 NFL pick torched Stanford’s defense for 316 yards and four touchdowns on 21 of 26 attempts last weekend. A defense, mind you, that is significantly better than the orange and white. If the Longhorns are going to take this road win, forcing turnovers out of Darnold is the name of the game.
Running Back Advantage: USC
Junior Chris Warren III looked nearly unstoppable on Saturday, rushing for 166 yards and two touchdowns in Texas’ 56-0 stomping of San Jose State. Flashback to a week prior versus Maryland, and the exact opposite is true. It remains to be seen if Texas is able to establish a ground game against a competent defensive line.
The Trojan duo of junior Ronald Jones II and freshman Stephen Carr looked every bit as formidable as Texas’ Warren and sophomore Kyle Porter, combining for 235 rushing yards in week two. However, they did it against a Stanford team famous for suffocating the run game. Burnt orange fans might have flashbacks to Texas’ upsetting loss to Maryland if Jones and Carr can outrun the Longhorn defensive line.
Wide Receiver Advantage: USC
For Texas fans looking for a single advantage heading into Saturday, look elsewhere. For every talented wide receiver the Longhorns trot out, USC has an equivalent.
Redshirt senior Steven Mitchell Jr. and junior Deontay Burnett recorded two touchdowns each against Stanford, including several highlight reel diving touchdowns and one-handed snags. Darnold has a number of go-to weapons to burn Texas early and often.
Offensive Line Advantage: USC
Texas’ offensive line is one of the more consistent parts of the Longhorn offense, assisting Warren, Porter and even junior Jerrod Heard in scoring easy touchdowns against San Jose State last Saturday.
But USC’s offensive line is simply better. It allowed only one sack last week, allowing the gifted arm of Darnold to sit and pick apart Stanford’s defense with ease. Texas’ pass rush may find itself unable to pressure the quarterback this Saturday, spelling a 50-plus point outing for Darnold and company.
Defensive Line Advantage: USC
The Longhorns demonstrated their inability to stop the run game against Maryland. And while some of those opening-game mistakes look to have been addressed versus San Jose State, slowing down the juggernaut that is the USC offense is an entirely different matter. This may prove the toughest matchup of the year and an ugly showing for the Longhorn frontline.
Stanford rushed for only 25 yards in the second half against USC — a stat that ought to put beads of sweat on the forehead of any Longhorn fan hoping to see successful outings from Warren and Porter this weekend. The Trojans’ defensive line is top-3 in the nation at stopping the run, which will force Texas and Buechele to take shots downfield.
Defensive Back Advantage: Texas
Texas’ one saving grace is Darnold’s habit of forcing passes where none exists. If the Longhorns’ swarming coverage can yield early turnovers, they can keep the score close enough for a chance to steal a win at the end.
USC’s backs have the luxury of a deep and talented defensive line. If Texas is unable to get the ground game going, which is likely, Buechele will be forced to start making passes he otherwise wouldn’t — playing right into the Trojans’ hands and spelling doom for the Longhorns’ winning hopes.