Texas nearly shocked the college football world on Saturday night — nearly.
No. 4 USC wasn’t supposed to trail Texas by three points with 30 seconds remaining in regulation. And the Trojans weren’t supposed to be held to just 17 points in regulation by the same defense who gave up 51 points to Maryland two weeks before, either.
But that didn’t matter on the final play. The crowd went silent as the ball soared through the air, but when it flew through the upright, allowing the Trojans to avoid an upset with a 27-24 double overtime win, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum broke out into absolute mayhem.
Red and gold confetti flurried through the stadium as USC stormed the field. An unranked Texas team had the Trojans on the ropes, but 27-24 illuminated across the Coliseum as the Longhorns walked down the tunnel.
“It’s a pretty heartbreaking loss to play with that much passion, energy and commitment and love for the guy next to you,” head coach Tom Herman said. “There was a lot of tears, and sorrow, and dejection in the locker room.”
Heading into Saturday night’s matchup, the Trojans weren’t expected to struggle against Texas, who started true freshman Sam Ehlinger at quarterback for his second career start in front of a jam-packed crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
That wasn’t the main storyline, however. Ehlinger and the Longhorn offense struggled for much of the night, but it didn’t seem to matter with the performance Texas’ defense put together.
Heisman candidate and USC quarterback Sam Darnold lit up the scoreboard in the first two weeks of the season, averaging 45.5 points a game. That didn’t happen Saturday evening. A Longhorn defense who had been maligned after its opening-day performance held an explosive Trojan offense to just 17 points in regulation.
“It was fun,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “Anytime you get the chance to get on the field it so fun. Guys understood, that’s the mentality … that’s what made it so fun being out here with your brothers and actually stopping them.”
The Longhorn defense shut out the Trojans for the majority of the night — except the last 15 seconds of each half. Texas tied the game 7-7 with 19 seconds left in the first half, doing something not many people expected by nearly going into halftime deadlocked with USC.
Then Sam Darnold and the Trojan offense showed why it’s considered one of the best in the country. Darnold scrambled around the pocket, evading the Longhorn rush. As time expired, Darnold flung the ball to running back junior Ronald Jones II, who took it 56 yards to give USC a 14-7 lead at the half.
Ehlinger and the Longhorn offense faced a 14-10 deficit with 5:14 remaining in the fourth quarter. Fourteen plays and 91 yards later, the Longhorn offense did something it hadn’t done all game: They found the end zone, scoring on a touchdown toss from Ehlinger to senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman.
Texas took a 17-14 lead with 39 seconds, which proved to be just enough time for Darnold and the Trojans to march down the field and tie the game at 17-17 with 0:00 left on the clock.
After the two teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, Ehlinger tried to get in the end zone from three yards out in double OT. Instead, the ball was ripped out of his arms and flew into the backfield as the Trojan defense swarmed the ball. It was Ehlinger’s fourth turnover of the night.
USC failed to get into the end zone, but a 43-yard field goal was all the Trojans needed to escape the Longhorns, who now sit at 1–2 on the season. And while Texas’ effort on Saturday against the heavily favored Trojans was a valiant one, it won’t be reflected in the record books.
“A loss is a loss,” sophomore wide receiver Collin Johnson said. “There’s no moral victories like I said. But the thing is I just love the way our guys fought. They just gave it all they got, and I gave it all I had. We’ve just got to keep building.”