All things considered, I’m glad Texas is playing USC again.
The game was put on Sam Ehlinger’s shoulders. 40 passes that went for 298 yards (7.8 ypa) with a pair of TDs and a pair of INTs. He also led the charge on the ground with 19 carries (many of them sacks or scrambles) for 10 yards…and the crucial fumble that lost the game.
That’s a heavy mantle to carry, Texas is going to have to give their QBs some help in future games by establishing the run, but the freshman had to carry it and grew up fast (not for the first time) under extreme pressure. There will be some quibbles and issues with various things that went down in that loss but I imagine that most people are pretty upbeat with the effort that Texas put forth and the future that lies in store for the program.
That was no pot of fools’ gold taken from an undeserving Leprechaun. USC is a real team, Sam Darnold is a star QB, and Texas just took their best shot and winked at them. They’ll meet again in Austin…
Quick thought no. 1: The Ehlinger gameplan really struggled to get rolling…but then…
Things started out exactly according to script. Ehlinger hit Collin Johnson on a shot down the field standing behind max protection and Texas was down in the red zone before USC fans had all even found their seats. Then a penalty slowed things down. Then an interesting QB power call they used to try and attack Uchenna Uwosu’s wide alignments which asked Chris Warren to be a de-facto TE and clear him out of the path. Warren wasn’t able to handle Uwosu’s surge inside and Ehlinger was dropped on 4th and 2 behind the line of scrimmage.
From there, everything went wrong for the gameplan. Texas lost Connor Williams early and had to rely on former Joe Wickline project Tristan Nickelson and young Denzel Okafor to try and keep Ehlinger upright while USC was coming after him with their star OLB tandem. But Ehlinger has had to make do without his star left tackle before and in the second half Texas managed to keep him clean enough to make play after play in the fourth quarter.
The Texas OL also struggled to get clean snaps back to Ehlinger with a few missed snaps that ruined drives, or to open up running lanes for Chris Warren or Kyle Porter, neither of whom broke a run longer than five yards. Perhaps if Texas had been able to establish the run they could have broken some longer runs but c’est la vie.
Ehlinger ended up converting four of 10 passing on third down in the game with all four completions converting and Texas went 2-3 on 4th down, both conversions coming courtesy of Sam. It’s a shame they had the QB power run game going late only to lose it all due to lack of ball security, USC was getting plowed at that point. That’s a relatively easy fix for the freshman moving forward, keep both hands on the ball when running through a pile, son.
Texas’ ability to protect well enough with six-man sets and move the ball down the field throwing to Collin Johnson or whichever slot was left open by the bracket coverage on Collin Johnson is probably going to be the strongest component of Texas’ identity this season. They need to establish the run more, yes, but that’s the bread and butter.
Quick thought no. 2: COLLIN JOHNSON!!!!
Say what you will about the Tom Herman and Tim Beck brain trust, and I know many of you will, but they did manage to feature the best player on the Texas offense (once Connor went down) to the tune of seven catches for 191 yards. They were also able to help Sam Ehlinger execute several big throws down the stretch working to the field with Armanti Foreman and co. off the spacing created by the bracket coverage that USC often played over no. 9.
Armanti Foreman might just be a gamer, his touchdown catch that I really thought had won the game late in the fourth quarter was good but he had a big catch on 4th and 10 two players earlier where he took a body shot after the catch and hung on. But enough about Foreman…
COLLIN JOHNSON!!! was sensational. He was working some double moves, some comebacks, he was everywhere and he reeled in a catch or two that were hardly thrown into the breadbasket. Texas has to continue to develop ways to punish teams for how they play him but he was the best player on the Texas offense tonight and USC wasn’t able to make him go away.
Quick thought no. 3: The D has turned a corner
Texas was killing USC with Orlando’s preferred four-man pressures that bring a hard-charging inside-backer through an interior gap late before the snap. Those pressures allow the secondary to play two-deep quarters coverages behind it, which makes for an ugly picture for the QB if he’s forced to make a quick throw.
DeShon Elliott had two picks playing robber safety behind the fantastic pressure and nearly a third and the secondary was playing some pretty inspired football save for the Chykie Brown, I mean Kris Boyd brain fart on the Deontay Burnett touchdown in overtime. But Kris also had his moments as well.
The true heroes were the defensive line, who absolutely dominated the Trojans “all pro” OL on both the run and the pass. Ronald Jones had 18 carries for only 47 yards and was very quiet save for that unfortunate 56-yard catch and run before the half…Darnold was under tremendous pressure and took several sacks. USC continued to believe that they could go for it on 4th down against a Longhorn defense and were sent home with an 0-3 to contemplate for future battles.
Film review could say a lot more but Charles Omenihu was rag-dolling the Trojans’ freshman RT that had play in place of Chuma Edoga, Poona Ford and Chris Nelson were owning the interior gaps and keeping Texas’ LBs clean all day, and I caught Malcolm Roach blowing up a key lead run on the edge by working off the tackle and then blowing up the pulling guard as well.
This unit was playing with a lot of confidence and should have very little reason not to believe in themselves executing with similar precision in Big 12 play.
Quick thought no. 4: The predator has arrived
It’s funny, but Malik looks very comfortable at middle linebacker playing the angles from that position. Now the Texas DL kept him pretty clean to track and smack but Malik was shooting into the Trojan backfield on the reg, including one key stop where he arrived in the hole before the pulling guard on a power run and shucked him aside before delivering a tackle for loss.
I noted that Texas is often wise to bring Anthony Wheeler or some other combination of defenders while dropping Malik into coverage to clean up whatever is left after the blitz BUT then I also caught Malik timing his blitzes better and fighting through blockers on his pressures.
Jefferson actually played with greater confidence and physicality as the game went on. It reminded me of the play he started to put on film when he was put in the QB spy role which allowed him to dominate Texas Tech a year ago. But this wasn’t a specialty role against a stubborn, one-dimensional opponent, this was pure linebacker play against a very multiple and effective offense.
There’s no reason that effort can’t be duplicated against Big 12 offenses. Everything Texas’ defense put on film tonight should be terrifying to Big 12 OCs, even the ones in Manhattan, Stillwater, and Norman.
Quick thought no. 5: The elephant in the room.
There’s no way Shane Buechele was ever going to play in that game. If he’d been healthy and good to go I’m pretty sure we would have seen him at some point when Ehlinger was throwing INTs, getting bad snaps, and having to hold up under withering pressure. The reason Ehlinger started was surely not because the coaches felt like he’s a better option than healthy Shane Buechele, especially when the game was won back due to Texas’ ability to set their protections properly and execute in the passing game. If Buechele had been ready to play he would have gotten his chance. He’ll probably be ready after a bye week when Iowa State comes up on the schedule.
Now Ehlinger did execute at a high level as the game went on, he does offer more out of the pocket, and he adds an extra dimension in the run game. I think we’ll see Shane Buechele get his chance to take the starting job back as he’s cleared to practice but it may be a battle. There’s no questioning Shane’s mental toughness and there should be no excitement about having to roll with a true freshman QB AGAIN but it’s also hard to dispute the fact that Ehlinger is simply a big, physical playmaker who has a few more tools for the job of building a spread offense.
Either way, Texas has a lot to build on from this game. Hook ‘em.