The majority of the school-record 103,507 fans at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium could feel it. Texas was moments away from its first signature win of the Tom Herman era.
Despite all of the storylines heading into Texas’ primetime matchup with No. 22 USC, from the 2006 Rose Bowl to last year’s instant classic in Los Angeles, one narrative rose to the top: Herman has yet to record a victory in a marquee game.
As the clock hit triple zeros Saturday night, cementing Texas’ 37-14 win over the Trojans, the Longhorns finally celebrated on the national stage.
“The team, psychologically, I think definitely that this was a big step for them,” Herman said. “To realize what they’re capable of, not just talk about it and be close to it, but actually realize it and go execute it at a very high level against a really good opponent.”
After falling behind 14-3, Texas ripped off a 20-0 run to give the Longhorns a 23-14 lead. But it wasn’t until the third quarter that freshman defensive back Caden Sterns and senior linebacker Anthony Wheeler sent DKR into a frenzy.
With 6:38 remaining in the third quarter, USC attempted to cut into Texas’ lead with a 50-yard field goal from Chase McGrath, the same kicker who hit the game-winning field goal in last year’s double overtime thriller.
USC snapped the ball right as Sterns flew through the Trojans’ line to swat the ball right off of McGrath’s foot. The ball flew over 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Sterns sprinted toward the ball but had trouble picking it up off the turf. Then, Wheeler rushed in, scooped up the ball and took it 46 yards to make it 30-14.
“I just gave him (Wheeler) a big hug and said, ‘Way to scoop and score,” Sterns said. “I obviously need to work on that in practice because I missed it, but there were big smiles on that sideline.”
Texas didn’t stop there. The Longhorns added one more touchdown run to give Texas a 37-14 lead with 1:42 left in the third quarter, capping off a 34-0 run after the first quarter.
“To go down 14-3, there was no hanging of heads, there was no discouragement, no negativity on the sideline,” Herman said. “We started playing better, made a few adjustments offensively and defensively, and we scored the last 34 points of the game.”
As Texas’ offense started to click, the Longhorn defense refused to give up a single point in the second half en route to Texas’ first marquee win of the season, and of the Tom Herman era.
For the newcomers, this wasn’t just a signature win, though. It was for the veterans who have endured back-to-back 5–7 seasons.
“It felt great to get a win for the older guys who started installing the culture before I got here,” Sterns said. “To go out there and see older dudes happy is what I do this for.”
After “The Eyes of Texas,” players walked through the tunnel with noticeable grins as they were applauded by 103,000-plus fans. Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte told The Daily Texan, “That’s what we (Tom Herman) talked about, putting the ‘T’ back in Texas.”
“That’s two weeks in a row that they have showed up en masse and really had a direct impact on the game,” Herman said.
As for graduate transfer Tre Watson, he might be the player who enjoyed beating the Trojans the most. The Southern Californian went 0–4 against USC in his time at Cal. Now, in his last opportunity, Watson was able to celebrate a win with his new team.
“You probably heard me screaming,” Watson said. “This was personal for me. Getting this win after four years of losing to them, man … coming out with this win feels amazing.”
While it’s premature to call this the turning point of the Herman era, it’s still fair to note the importance of Texas’ first victory in a primetime game since 2016, which also served as Texas’ 900th win in program history.
Texas won’t have much time to celebrate, though. The Longhorns will host No. 15 TCU next Saturday. And with it comes the opportunity at claiming back-to-back signature wins.
“We’re going to celebrate the heck out of this one,” Herman said. “It’s a great win. Again, a team that every facet had a hand in, knowing what we have coming up, starting tomorrow, allows or forces some temperance of jubilation on my part.”