Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: Just like 2006, can these Longhorns put it all together for one night vs. USC?

Posted September 14th, 2017

LOS ANGELES — Think USC fans aren’t jacked up this week? When the wheels hit the runway in Los Angeles on Thursday, the captain of our Southwest flight blasted the Trojans’ fight song on the intercom.

Fight on, indeed.

Texas fans have spent the week reliving that glorious January night 11 years ago in the Rose Bowl when the Longhorns won the 2005 national title. But it’s clear the Trojans are ready to make up for lost time, as a sold-out Coliseum indicates.

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Asked about the now-famous fourth-and-2 stop, former USC fullback LenDale White told the Los Angeles Times, “One yard stopped us from being great forever.”

Oh yes, Texas fans, USC folks have had time to think. And the fourth-ranked Trojans, who come in as more than two-touchdown favorites, are ready. In some respects, isn’t this week a similar situation to what happened 12 seasons ago?

USC running back LenDale White (21) and the Texas Longhorns defense wait to hear the call after stopping the Trojans on fourth down late in the fourth quarter during the 2005 National Championship game. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Granted, Saturday night isn’t for any championship. It’s merely a non-conference get-together in September. Still, it’s fascinating to think about what a Texas victory would mean at this point in the Tom Herman era.

This is a mulligan for the Longhorns. The team enjoyed fairly decent preseason hype and landed 23rd in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Most of that was driven by Herman’s arrival, of course. Way too many observers looked at the new coach and looked past the same players that went 5-7 last season.

The season-opening loss to Maryland was serious eye-opener for everyone in burnt orange and those in the Longhorns’ orbit. A primetime win against a top-five team would give Texas a reason to strut again.

For that to happen, Texas likely has to play perfect football. No matter if quarterback Shane Buechele or Sam Ehlinger starts, the Horns must establish the run. The defensive line must be physical and stop USC’s running attack. UT’s corners cannot let receivers get free, or Sam Darnold will pick this secondary apart.

No penalties, no bone-headed mistakes and no special teams miscues.

“I mean, we’re so far removed from Maryland, you know? That wasn’t us,” Herman said this week. “We can’t replay that game, so why dwell on it? I think any kind of added motivation derived from how you performed two weeks ago, or whatever it is, is probably wasted energy.”

This year’s team is an underdog, just like that 2005 crew. Back then the Trojans were all too happy to let the Horns know about it, too.

“Pre-game, they came out and was trying to pick a fight with us and we were just trying to roll up on the field by ourselves,” former UT defensive end Tim Crowder said. “There was a lot of stuff going on.”

Former cornerback Aaron Ross said the modern-day Longhorns are walking into a hostile crowd, a hostile environment.

“We just tell the guys to take off the name on the back of their jersey and have pride in the name on the front of the jersey,” the two-time Super Bowl champion added. “Just play with confidence, that’s the main thing we did as the 2005 team. We had a lot of confident guys and coaches did a great job getting us prepared for the game.”

Texas would improve to 2-1 with a victory, and suddenly, a trip to Iowa State and the month of October doesn’t seem so daunting. Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State should all be among the top-25 rankings when they face Texas.

Losses come in varying degrees. A team could play lights-out football and come up short. A team could fight and scratch and simply be outclassed. And then there’s the worst loss imaginable — a total egg where the team looks completely unprepared. Revisit UT’s 50-7 loss at TCU in 2015 for reference.

“I think each game poses its own motivation,” Herman said. “And this one, the motivation is you’re playing one of the best teams in the country. One of the premier programs in the history of college football in the Los Angeles (Memorial) Coliseum, I mean, there is plenty of motivation there regardless of what you want to show or prove to anybody, especially now with the bunker mentality. The only people we have to prove anything to is our teammates.”

The Longhorns have gone into a bunker since that loss to the Terps. Herman hasn’t tweeted anything since Sept. 2. Multiple players have gone radio silent on social media, too.

This team knows it has a lot of work to do.

If by chance it all comes together for one night — like this Saturday night — then the rest of the season has a totally different look.

As Ross said, “Just bring your confidence and do what coaches told you to do, and you’ll be all right.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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