No. 4 USC survives Texas in 2 OTs
LOS ANGELES -- Chase McGrath’s 43-yard field goal in double overtime elevated No. 4-ranked USC over Texas 27-24 on Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Defensive lineman Christian Rector’s strip of Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger at the goal line set up the game-winning kick. It was Ehlinger’s second fumble and the fourth USC takeaway of the night.
”The play before, they ran the quarterback draw up the middle,“ said USC defensive back Ajene Harris, who recovered the fumble. ”They lined up in that formation the second time. ... So I went in there for extra help, to try to pull the quarterback or strip him.
“I (saw) the ball in the air, and I just had to go get it. At that point, I thought the refs were going to call something. It was kind of unbelievable, I heard nobody screaming.”
By that point, the Coliseum crowd of 84,714 may have been all screamed out.
The Trojans (3-0) forced the overtimes with a last-second field goal by McGrath of 31 yards, set up when Sam Darnold completed passes of 13, 18 and 21 yards, including a jump-pass under duress to running back Stephen Carr.
“A lot of great plays all around,” Darnold said of the final drive in regulation. “Our (offensive) line protected well.”
McGrath’s high-pressure kicking ranks among the great plays, prompting the walk-on placekicker -- who only joined the USC roster in the summer -- to joke about landing a scholarship.
“I need to find (a scholarship), I’ll tell you that,” USC head coach Clay Helton said. “Really valiant effort by him tonight in two clutch situations.”
Darnold opened the extra frames with a first-play, 25-yard scoring strike to Deontay Burnett -- Darnold’s third touchdown pass of the night and second to Burnett. The quarterback found running back Ronald Jones II for a score with the clock reading zeroes just before halftime.
Darnold finished 28 of 49 for 397 yards. He threw two interceptions, including a pick-six to safety DeShon Elliott, and was sacked three times. USC struggled to mount a rushing attack against the Texas defense, finishing with 71 yards on 37 carries.
“We came in and did what we had to do: Take them out of their game plan,” said Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson. “We put them in a one-dimensional offense.”
The Texas offense had it no easier, finishing with 68 yards on 35 carries.
The loss of standout left tackle Connor Williams complicated things for the Longhorns.
“We can’t survive on one-and-two-yard runs,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “We can’t expect, against that team, to convert a bunch of third-and-7s.”
Texas (1-2) scored its first offensive touchdown of the game with 45 seconds remaining in regulation. Ehlinger capped a 91-yard drive, which included two fourth-down conversions, by finding wide receiver Armanti Foreman for a 17-yard touchdown strike.
The Longhorns threatened earlier in the quarter, but Marvell Tell’s interception snuffed out Texas’ red-zone opportunity.
Ehlinger finished 21 of 42 for 298 yards and threw a touchdown pass of 3 yards to Cade Brewer in the first overtime.
“If you told me we’d go to double overtime and fumble it, I’d have gone for two,” Herman said.
The 17 combined points scored in overtime were only outdone by the burst of points registered in the waning moments of the first half.
Jones’ scoring reception capped the only scoring of the first half, the entirety of which came in the final 2:40.
USC broke a scoreless stalemate late in the second quarter when Darnold found Burnett in the back of the end zone on a 15-yard strike. The Trojans’ previous six possessions ended with two failed fourth-down conversions, including one at the goal line, a missed field goal and three punts.
In a fitting indicator of the half’s flow, the lone Texas score came via defense, with Elliott scoring his interception-for-touchdown on a carom off the hands of USC wide receiver Jalen Greene.
Linebacker Anthony Wheeler paced the feisty effort from the Texas defense, finishing with game highs of 12 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, and a team-high 1.5 sacks.
The pressure Texas applied Darnold showed early. Darnold threw more incompletions by the 10:48 mark of the second quarter (six) than he had the entirety of the Week 2 win over Stanford.
The Texas offense had its first opportunity to capitalize on its initial possession. Wide receiver Collin Johnson caught a 48-yard pass from Ehlinger on the Longhorns’ first play from scrimmage, setting them up in scoring territory for the first and only time in the half.
The possession ended on a failed fourth-down conversion attempt. Texas’ six other possessions in the first two quarters ended in two turnovers and four punts. The Longhorns surrendered three sacks on their final drive, including two to USC defensive end Porter Gustin, who missed the second half and overtime with a biceps injury.
NOTES: USC went scoreless in the first quarter for the first time since a 0-0 opening period against Wisconsin in the 2015 Holiday Bowl. ... USC’s failure on the game’s opening drive was its first fourth-down conversion attempt of the season; Texas dropped to 1-6 on the season attempting fourth-down conversions on its own opening possession, but was successful twice in its final possession in regulation. ... Trojans RB Ronald Jones II reached the end zone for the 10th consecutive game with his scoring reception before halftime. ... Texas held USC without a fourth-down conversion on three attempts. ... Saturday was USC QB Sam Darnold’s second multiple-interception game of the season, matching his total from 2016. ... USC DE Porter Gustin will have an MRI later in the week for the biceps injury that sidelined him.