Big 12

Three Big Questions: What Texas has to answer vs. USC

September 16, 2017

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It’s time for Horns247’s “Three Big Questions” for the Texas Longhorns.

With Saturday’s game against the No. 4-ranked USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (7:30 p.m., FOX) pitting the Longhorns against a tremendous foe, there numerous questions the Longhorns need to answer in order have enough success to come back home with a victory.

However, we narrowed it down to three questions for continuity’s sake.

Title/Alt Text(Photo: Erich Schlegel, USA TODAY Sports)

1. Will the defense be able to prevent explosive plays?

While the defense was able to keep San Jose State off of the scoreboard in last week’s 56-0 win, the Spartans simply didn’t take advantage of the deep-ball opportunities they had by way of the Texas secondary playing with bad eye discipline. That, combined with poor leveraging of the football, could’ve made last weekend’s win much more interesting than it turned out.

Todd Orlando knows the things the Longhorns did against San Jose State will get them beat against USC, an opponent that will expose the mistakes unable to be masked by athleticism and effort.

“If you make one mistake they’re down the sidelines,” Orlando said of the USC backs and receivers. “That’s what makes them, when you watch them on tape, is very difficult to defend. Defensively, there’s going to be times you do make mistakes and they will make you pay for them.”

Maryland scored on six of the 12 explosive plays (runs of 12 or more yards, passing plays of 15 yards or more) the Terrapins tallied against the Longhorns in the season opener. If Texas gives up those kinds of chunk-yardage plays to the Trojans, it could be a very long night for Orlando’s crew.

(Photo: Tim Warner, Getty)

2. How much will depth matter?

One of the best things about the San Jose State win was Tom Herman being able to get several backups in the game for long stretches of the second half. That’s how you build depth, but with Herman only allowing 71 players to travel, the Longhorns had to make their decisions wisely on who was allowed on the plane to Los Angeles.

“They have to earn the right,” Herman said. “You’ve got to provide some kind of value to us and a couple injured guys, Andrew Beck for instance, he’ll travel because he’s a captain. He provides value with leadership.”

The two areas to watch are the offensive line and cornerback.

Denzel Okafor worked at guard and tackle this week with Patrick Hudson (torn right ACL) joining Elijah Rodriguez (ankle surgery) on the shelf. Okafor will be the first lineman off the bench in the event of an injury (should something happen to Zach Shackelford, the plan is for Jake McMillon to go to center and Okafor to go in at guard). But beyond Okafor and Alex Anderson, it doesn’t sound like the Longhorns have anyone they’d feel comfortable putting in during a time of significance.

Horns247 has learned that true freshman cornerback Josh Thompson didn’t make the trip for the game due to injury. With Eric Cuffee (wrist) already on the shelf, the fourth cornerback is likely to be veteran John Bonney.

Chris Warren III(Photo: Tim Warner, Getty)

3. Can the offense stay on schedule?

The simple take regarding the Texas offense is that the Longhorns have to establish the run in order to have a chance against USC. Whether it’s running the football or throwing it, Tim Beck needs to see his side of the ball stay on schedule more often than not and see as many favorable down and distance situations as possible.

That’s what happened against San Jose State because the Longhorns were able to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds that crippled them against Maryland.

“We weren’t sitting there looking at first-and-20, first -and-15, second-and-12 or second-and-20. We weren’t in those situations a lot,” Beck said. “We were in second-and-4. So if you can be in those situations, be it by a bootleg or a run, I don’t know that it matters.”

Whether penalties or blown assignments are the root of the issues, the Longhorns can’t have them. Texas needs to play as clean of a game as possible to be in a position to pull the upset.

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