LOS ANGELES—It wasn’t revenge, but it was riveting and even sent half-a- shiver down an old writer's spine.
USC over Texas, in double overtime, was 16 tons of gears and levers grinding against each other on a cool summer, Saturday evening.
What’s not to like about a game that featured a score at 0:00 three times: at the end first half, the end of the second and the end of the second OT?
Count me in for any game in which a freshman kicker badly misses his first college attempt, but then makes the game-winner to push home a life-affirming, season-saving, 27-24 win.
“Obviously, it felt amazing,” Chase McGrath, our hero kicker, said in the Coliseum tunnel afterward as he eyed a hero sandwich in the post-game buffet.
Yeah, it was good stuff, with a lot of back-and-forth detail we highly recommend you check out in the Associated Press capsule summary.
The gist of it was this: This year’s Texas took the lead on this year’s USC with 45 seconds left. Actor Matthew McConaughey, the Longhorns' lead cheerleader, wearing the coolest brown-leather jacket you'll ever see, back slapped the fellas as he raced up and down the sideline.
But then USC quarterback Sam Darnold, who hadn’t played up to par up to then, led his team down for a game-tying field goal.
That led to overtime, a score for the Trojans and an answering one for the Longhorns. And then there sat Texas, first-and-goal in the second overtime, sniffing the end zone when a Trojan defender named Christian Rector ripped the ball clean from quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s hands.
The ball popped out like a champagne cork.
“I just saw the ball in the air and had to go get it,” Trojan DB Ajene Harris said.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Harris got it, and that set up the game-winning field goal for the freshman we mentioned earlier. McGrath, from local power house Mater Dei, who won the job in fall camp.
Kicking is\was USC’s biggest worry as it continues on what many see as a national-title contending arc.
All in joyous all it was fine game, a good game, a fun, respectful, spirited game. It was well-attended (84,714), well-mannered, well pre-game tailgated, with hits you could hear all the way in the press box.
“I always feel like you’re going to have one of these games when you’re trying to win a championship,” USC Coach Clay Helton said, “where you have to dig down deep and find a way to win.”
Of course, it was not payback for the USC-Texas game played 11 years ago—how could it be? That game did cost USC the national title. It snapped a 34-game winning streak and denied the Trojans a third straight ring.
That game was played on a different day, in a different stadium, on a different astral plane. It was a long, long Longhorn time ago.
It was so far back Matt Leinart, the USC quarterback who played in the 2005 season national title game against Texas, has since been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
He was honored by the home crowd Saturday night, at the Coliseum, between the first and second quarter.
Leinart stood on the field, with a plaque, wearing a suit, standing 20 yards from the Texas bench.
And there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about Texas 41, USC 38, at the Rose Bowl, all those years ago.
Leinart couldn’t go back and put Reggie Bush in the game on fourth-and-two, or stop Vince Young on his epic, game-winning drive.
All Leinart could do Saturday was watch a different USC vs. Texas. A terrific, sloppy, regular season, mid-September, mistake-filled slog of a game. Eighteen, count ‘em, penalties, and 13 combined punts. Four total interceptions, two lost fumbles and a partridge in a pear tree.
Man, though, was Texas tougher than Bevo’s backside, shocking the Trojans with a fearsome passion and jarring tackling. This was not what USC was expecting from the team that, only two weeks ago, allowed 51 points to Maryland.
“It’s amazing,” first-year Texas Coach Tom Herman said after Saturday's game. “The power of playing hard.”
It overcomes a lot of things, like losing your All-America left tackle in the first half, and playing with a true freshman quarterback.
Trust me, USC felt the push-back of Texas, like a furniture mover feels a chest of drawers coming back on him down a staircase.
The hype this week comparing this game to that game was ridiculous to any of us lucky enough to be at the original.
“The hype wasn’t all that,” USC linebacker Uchenna Nwosu said. “We were all like 3 years old, 6 years.”
USC's loss to Texas, 11 years ago, irrevocably changed two programs. It ended the Pete Carroll dynasty, made Mack Brown rich and made Vince Young a folk hero.
Saturday's win was a step along a different path. It kept USC undefeated and forging forward on a different trip.
There was never going to be a day like the first USC-Texas.
But, as Clay Helton surmised after his team's latest, closest, real-time call. "There's going to be days like this."