Trojan head coach Clay Helton previewed the match up of USC vs. Texas on Tuesday, looking at the Longhorns rushing attack and top defender.
Leading into Saturday’s USC vs. Texas game, much of the narrative surrounds the 2006 match up between the two college football juggernauts in one of the greatest national championship games ever played.
While it is natural to look back at that game, two entirely different teams will be facing off at the Coliseum this time around, coached by USC’s Clay Helton and Texas’ Tom Herman.
On Tuesday, Helton took the time to breakdown the Trojans Week 3 opponent.
“After watching Texas for the last couple days, the first thing you come away with is how impressed they are with their personnel,” Helton said. “This is a big football team and a talented football team that improved from Week 1 to Week 2 and that’s what you expect from a Tom Herman group.”
“This is a big football team and a talented football team that improved from Week 1 to Week 2.”
Herman displayed a “brilliant offensive mind” at both Ohio State and Houston, according to Helton, and that mind has not skipped a beat installing his offense in Austin.
“He’s averaging 48 points a game already. He’s putting up over 500 yards of offense a game,” said Helton. “And really has some skill players that can do his system and do his system well.”
The Longhorns will look to hurt USC on the ground and through the air, though Helton said they really found their identity in Week 2 when they committed to the ground game.
After throwing 53 passes in the loss to Maryland, Texas kept the ball on the ground against San Jose State and thrived. Chris Warren and Kyle Porter led the way as the Longhorns gained 406 yards on 59 rushes while punching in six rushing touchdowns.
Some of that success can be attributed as well to “an athletic offensive line” headlined by Connor Williams, who Helton billed as “one of the premiere offensive left tackles in the country.”
Facing that rushing attack may be a concern for the Trojans who conceded 263 yards rushing to Western Michigan in the season opener. Lessening that concern somewhat, USC limited Stanford to 170 yards on the ground, 75 of which came on one Bryce Love run.
Moreover, the Spartan run defense has not exactly been a juggernaut, giving up 315 yards to USF this year and 400 to Air Force and New Mexico last year.
Texas may know who to lean on in the run game, but the Longhorn’s quarterback situation is a mystery. Returning starter Shane Buechele started the season opener, but an injury kept him out in Week 2, opening the door for Sam Ehlinger to impress with 222 yards and a touchdown versus SJSU.
The two are now listed as co-starters on the depth chart. Helton said that won’t change USC’s approach.
“They’re really similar guys,” he said. “They can both spin it. They have enough athleticism to move the chains and to create. So I don’t think you have to have two different game plans here. Both are talented quarterbacks, whichever one plays in the game, we’ll have a plan for.”
The Trojans will have another quarterback wrinkle to prepare for with junior quarterback Jerrod Heard available to come in as a wildcat option.
Rounding out Texas’ passing attack, Helton called attention to two Longhorn receivers: senior Armanti Foreman and sophomore Collin Johnson.
“In Foreman, you’re looking at a speed guy. They like to do speed sweeps on the perimeter and he can push the field vertically,” Helton said.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Johnson is a mismatch in the making.
“He’s a 6-foot-6 kid that really brings a physical nature on fade routes and on slants. He knows how to out fight people for the ball,” said Helton.
USC cornerbacks Iman Marshall at 6-foot-1 and Jack Jones at 5-foot-11 will have their work cut out for them fighting off Johnson, as well as two other 6-foot-5 receivers in Dorian Leonard and Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
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On the defensive side of the ball, Helton expects Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to come out aggressive against the Trojans.
“I have the utmost respect for Todd Orlando, [who is] maybe one of the bigger pressure guys in the country,” Helton said, pointing to Houston’s performances against Oklahoma and Louisville. “[He] loves the blitz package and the bigger the game, the more pressure that seems to come.”
That pressure didn’t work out against Maryland, who generated 482 yards of offense against the Longhorns. However, Texas did hold San Jose State scoreless with just 171 yards of total offense.
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The key to the Longhorn defense is rover linebacker Malik Jefferson, who leads Texas with 16 tackles this season.
“He plays in other people’s backfields,” Helton said. “[He’s] as good a pursuit guy as you’ll see chasing the ball. Ultra-athletic.”
It’ll be up to tackles Toa Lobendahn and Chuma Edoga to neutralize Jefferson’s impact off the edge.
All around, Helton called the Longhorns a “sleeping giant” under Herman.
“They’re going to be one of those teams that’s going to get better and better and better each and every week,” He said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us and we’ve got to play our best game because it’s our next game.”