Scenarios: vs. No. 4 USC

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Texas wins if

This season, Texas has allowed less total points and yards to opposing teams than No. 4 USC. Granted, the Trojans have faced a much steeper level of competition.

Sam Darnold and company truly looked like one of the top teams in the nation last week, defeating then-No. 14 Stanford, 42-24.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback completed 21 of his 26 pass attempts for 316 yards and four touchdowns against the Cardinal. Also chipping in via the run were junior Ronald Jones II and freshman Stephen Carr, who combined for 235 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries.

The Longhorns will win this game if they can disrupt the USC’s offensive rhythm. To do so, the orange and white must pressure the quarterback and create takeaways.

As a unit, the Texas defense has only registered two sacks — one in each game this season. The team will need to be much more aggressive against the Trojans, who have only allowed three sacks this year (for comparison, the Longhorns have allowed five sacks, all of them coming from Maryland in week one).

Texas junior cornerback Holton Hill ran back another interception against San Jose State last Saturday — his second pick-six of the season. However, other defensive backs must get involved if Texas hopes to defeat the Trojans.

Darnold has thrown four interceptions thus far and fumbled the ball once. If the Longhorns can bring pressure and force him to continue making mistakes, the Trojans’ offense might collapse on itself.

Texas loses if

Who’s starting at quarterback for Texas?

Will sophomore Shane Buechele recover in time? Is freshman Sam Ehlinger ready for a game of this magnitude? Is redshirt junior Jerrod Heard really an option, or just a part of the third-and-short “Heard-and-short” package?

There are many questions surrounding the most important position on offense. Texas loses this game if they can’t come up with a good answer.

Buechele bruised his shoulder against Maryland and was held out of last week’s game. His numbers were decent, throwing for 375 yards and two touchdowns on 34 of 52 passing attempts. But he also left a lot to be desired, running out of the pocket 15 times for 21 yards and getting picked off once.

Ehlinger and Heard stepped up against San Jose State last Saturday, but weren’t featured nearly as much as Buechele. Ehlinger completed 15 of 27 passes for 222 yards and a score, and also ran for 48 yards on seven attempts. 

Heard was up-and-down with his opportunities, though that may have been due to the way they were interwoven throughout the game. He completed 1 of 2 passes for negative-five yards and rushed for 39 yards and two scores on eight carries.

Head coach Tom Herman has a difficult decision to make, as none of the candidates have shown they are ready for this game. He’s kept his cards close to his chest thus far, listing the starter as “Shane Buechele or Sam Ehlinger” on the team’s depth chart. 

Making the wrong choice would plummet Texas’ odds of winning this game.