Throwback: How a win over Texas launched USC football’s 1967 national title team

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Vavae Malepeai
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Vavae Malepeai /

USC football’s 1967 national title run began with an impressive victory for O.J. Simpson and the No. 4 Trojans over the No. 5 Texas Longhorns.

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When USC football took home the 1967 national title, several victories claimed a place in Trojan lore.

The Trojans used a record four interceptions by Adrian Young to best defending champion Notre Dame in South Bend, 24-7, for the first time in 28 years.

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The 21-20 regular season finale victory over No. 1 UCLA was one of the greatest, most impactful games in the history of the rivalry. It also featured O.J. Simpson’s iconic weaving 64-yard touchdown, a run USC itself terms “perhaps the most famous run in college football history.”

But every national title season has to start somewhere. And every Heisman career has to launch somehow. Both the campaign and the career truly kicked off in Week 2 of the 1967 season, when Simpson and the Trojans took on the highly-rated Texas Longhorns.

Background on the battle

Both USC and Texas finished the 1966 season with a 7-4 record, but one capped their campaign on a high with a bowl victory while the other faltered. The Longhorns bested the Ole Miss Rebels in the Bluebonnet Bowl while the Trojans couldn’t overcome Purdue in the Rose Bowl, failing a late two-point conversion.

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Still, the two teams came into the 1967 season with plenty of hope for the future.

USC got a head start opening the season with an in-conference matchup against Washington State.

Those Cougars would end the season with a 2-8 record, their dismal performance heralded from day one by a 49-0 beat down from USC. The Trojans scored 21 points during a three minute and 13 second stretch in the second quarter.

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O.J. takes the stage

With a sprinter’s speed, Simpson was favorably compared to Heisman winner Mike Garrett before the season began.

His first appearance in cardinal and gold after transferring in from junior college was against Washington State, but the performance didn’t make his Heisman future particularly clear.

He had 94 yards on 17 carries in an outing which also featured a fumble. Not bad, but not great.

It was his second start as a Trojan which put him put him on the path greatness.

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“Super Bill” and “Gorgeous Gil”

USC’s first real test would come in Week 2 when Texas came to Los Angeles for the second leg of a home-and-home.

The year before, USC had pulled off a narrow 10-6 victory in Austin. Texas was looking for payback, the No. 4 Trojans were looking for legitimacy against the nation’s No. 5 team.

Darrell Royal’s 1967 Longhorns were led by a pair of superstars: “Super Bill” Bradley and Chris “Gorgeous Gil” Gilbert. The two were the first Texas teammates to run for 100 yards each in a game in the previous season’s Bluebonnet Bowl.

USC’s Adrian Young had seen both the year before, but expected them to be improved. He particularly worried about Bradley’s ability to scramble.

“I think we can beat Texas,” he told the Los Angeles Times in the week before the game. “I think we can beat anybody. But we can’t make any mistakes.”

The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · 24 Sep 1967, Sun · Page 43
The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · 24 Sep 1967, Sun · Page 43 /

An early mistake

The speedy Trojan offense proved capable of slicing through Texas’ defense early in the first quarter when they drove 45 yards down to the 10-yard line.

Then Simpson put the ball on the ground.

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Texas took advantage of the fumble and drove back 85 yards on 15 plays. Gilbert converted a fourth down with an 18-yard run while Bradley passed to Deryl Comer for a two-yard score.

In a bid to make up for his mistake, Simpson led USC back into Texas territory, but the Longhorns stiffened at the goal line and forced a turnover on downs.

Fortunately for the Trojans, stout defense was also in the cards for the boys in cardinal and gold. They forced Texas to punt from inside their own endzone, setting up good field position for the offense.

After moving back to the goal line, this time Simpson took the ball from the two-yard line and found the goal line on the left to tie the game at 7-7.

It was the first of his 36 career touchdowns.

Imposing their will

USC opened the third quarter with a decisive drive, travelling 68 yards in 10 plays. The majority of those yards were gained by Simpson, including his best run of the day for 18 yards.

The running back carried USC to the red zone where Trojan quarterback Steve Sogge hit receiver Bob Miller for a seven-yard touchdown and the lead.

From there on out, the Trojans controlled the ball game.

Their only additional score was a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, set up by 20 hard-fought yards from Simpson, but that was all USC needed thanks to their stifling defense.

Powered by defensive lineman Tim Rossovich, the Trojan defense held Texas’ star pairing of Bradley and Gilber to 42 and 75 yards on the ground.

Texas tacked on a touchdown in the final two minutes of the game, but it was too-little, too-late.

USC prevailed 17-13.

The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · 24 Sep 1967, Sun · Page 48
The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · 24 Sep 1967, Sun · Page 48 /

“One of the best”

Simpson’s performance, which totaled 158 yards on 30 carries with a touchdown, wasn’t his best of the season, but it was enough for Royal, the legendary Texas coach.

“I hope we don’t see anybody with more capabilities,” Royal was quoted in the LA Times. “And I don’t think we will.”

The victory would be enough to boost USC from No. 4 to No. 2 in the polls.

Royal dubbed the Trojans “one of the best in the country.”

By season’s end they would be declared the best in the country as national champions. Simpson would finish as the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. The next year, he’d claim the coveted award.

And it all started at the Coliseum against Texas.

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