USC vs. Texas 2018: Studs and duds in Trojans’ big loss

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images /

The USC vs. Texas game was a brutal one for the 1-2 Trojans, who allowed 34 unanswered points. Who starred and who didn’t?

Clay Helton’s Trojans had another disastrous performance in Saturday’s USC vs. Texas game, which was filled with big momentum swings, huge decisions and lots of struggles.

Who stood out? Let’s get to the Week 3 studs and duds…


Amon-Ra St. Brown:

JT Daniels’ favorite target had nine catches for 167 yards, the most by a USC true freshman since Nelson Agholor’s 162 against Oregon in 2012. He was a reliable safety valve early, as each of his first four catches went for conversions on third down.

—end of studs list—


The decision to kick a field goal on 4th down at the Texas 32-yard line:

Yes, it was 4th-and-12. Yes, that’s a low percentage chance. But the Trojans were not only down nine points in the third quarter, but had some momentum after a turnover and were going to be forced to kick a 50-yard field goal from the same right hashmark Chase McGrath went well wide from last week at Stanford. Hitting a three-pointer from that distance, at that length, couldn’t have given the Trojans better odds than simply converting on fourth. Yet Helton opted to kick, which was blocked and returned for a game-busting touchdown. To make matters worse, McGrath was trampled in the aftermath and Helton told reporters he’s feared to have suffered a torn ACL. Brutal.

Replay review:

In what feels like a forgotten moment in the game, Porter Gustin sacked Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger in the end zone for a safety. Or so it looked. He was ruled down just outside the goal line at the 1-yard line, a call that somehow ended up standing by replay review. It proved costly at the time, because USC could’ve used those two points to prevent a halftime deficit.

The punters:

USC had punts of 13, 22 and 29 yards. It doesn’t matter who punted, the results were the same. That means the issues are systemic, which isn’t only awful for a team employing a full-time special teams coordinator, but downright disastrous when they led to shortened fields and scoring drives.

Punt block team:

Freshmen make mistakes, and that was the case when Talanoa Hufanga got called for roughing the kicker on a near punt block in the Texas end zone. Had he gotten a piece of the ball, it could’ve been six for USC. Had he just not slammed into the punter, he wouldn’t have forced the defense back onto the field following the controversial non-safety.

Special teams:

See all of those duds above? They all lead to this one, despite Helton calling John Baxter the best special teams coach he’s ever seen in the postgame press conference.

Clay Helton:

Another week, another loss. Another week, another postgame press conference that softened defeats and deflected from the issues with USC’s football team. Helton doesn’t have to throw tantrums or go on viral rants, but his confident remarks about the Trojans’ game plans and subsequent poor execution do nothing to quell the optics that his teams aren’t prepared.

USC’s offensive line:

Negative-six yards. Negative-six. That’s how many rushing yards the Trojans amassed, err—lost. USC not only couldn’t protect for JT Daniels —he was sacked three times— but the offensive line was thoroughly outmatched in run blocking, leading to a 1.6-yard sack-adjusted yards-per-carry average. Of the 24 rushing yards by USC’s running backs, 23 came on Stephen Carr’s touchdown run early in the first quarter. The 11 other carries gained a single net yard. Abandoned run or not, that’s horrendous.

The toss sweep on 4th-and-goal at the Texas 1-yard line:

Goal line plays are typically unfairly scrutinized or praised strictly based on the result. But what made USC’s toss sweep to Carr at goal line a poor decision isn’t the concept. It’s the design of the play. It was doomed from the start because the Trojans didn’t have the numbers. They didn’t have players out in front lead blocking for Carr, which put a wealth of pressure on him to make a guy miss. It didn’t have to be that difficult.

Ajene Harris:

Despite being one of Clancy Pendergast’s favorite players, Ajene Harris had a night to forget. His missed tackle on Lil’Jordan Humphery in the second quarter led to a 47-yard touchdown, and he was later beat deep for a 27-yard score on a pass to Joshua Moore. He had his moments with a pair of pass breakups, but USC needs seniors like Harris to be their best players on nights like this, especially when it counts.