No. 22 USC (1-1) at Texas (1-1)
Saturday, 5 p.m. PDT, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. TV: Channel 11. Radio: 710.
USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin vs. Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando: With the Trojans coming off their lowest scoring output since 1997, the pressure is on USC coach Clay Helton — and, more specifically, offensive coordinator Tee Martin — to get the offense rolling against the Longhorns. The issues have been plentiful — poor pass blocking, dropped passes and a general feeling-out process for the wide receivers with freshman quarterback JT Daniels. For Martin, getting the Trojans into the right looks after two games to gather information would be much easier if he were not about to face off with Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. The Longhorns pride themselves on being unpredictable with their defensive game plans, and they will bring consistent heat from all directions — something USC did not handle well at Stanford in a 17-3 loss. Martin knows what he is up against and now he knows what he has to deal with it. Fair or not, Saturday night’s offensive showing will be viewed by USC faithful as a referendum on Martin’s ability to do his job.
USC (416.5 ypg/23 ppg): Clay Helton said this week that his “three-headed monster” at running back has been the strongest offensive group thus far. But, as good as Aca’Cedric Ware and Vavae Malepeai have been at times in the first two games, it’s obvious that the 9.5 carries per game for Stephen Carr will not be enough for the Trojans to reach their explosive potential offensively. Helton has been cautious with Carr, who is coming off back surgery, but the coach indicated this week that more work will be in store for the talented sophomore.
Texas (441.5 ypg/28.5 ppg): Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger played a gutty game last year against USC to get the Longhorns to double overtime. Helton sees a more confident player a year later. Ehlinger, a stocky and strong athlete, will run the read option and use his legs to move the ball and then take shots over the top with Texas’ big receivers.
USC (373.5 ypg/19 ppg): The Trojans’ defense could be dominant if they eliminate big plays. Making that task more difficult is the unsettled situation at strong safety that only got worse last week when Isaiah Pola-Mao went down with a shoulder injury. He’ll be out Saturday, with fourth-stringers C.J. Pollard and Talanoa Hufanga splitting time alongside free safety Marvell Tell III.
Texas (380 ypg/27.5 ppg): Texas lost the bulk of its experience from last year’s stingy unit and is a work in progress. The Longhorns appear vulnerable on the ground, ranked 90th in rush defense nationally, and they have only one sack in two games.
Freshman Amon-ra St. Brown began the season as the first-team punt returner, but Tyler Vaughns took that role from him in the first game. He’s returned three punts for 58 yards, and it feels like he’s got a game-breaking return on the horizon.
The last time USC won a game in the state of Texas was in 1996 against Houston in the Astrodome. The Trojans won 26-9. Clay Helton’s father, Kim, was the head coach of the Cougars that day.