Is A Storybook Win Over Texas Setting USC Up for Disappointment at Cal?

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We’re not even four weeks into the season and I already can’t with it.

The No. 5 Trojans are 3-0 going into their first road trip of the season, where they’ll face the California Golden Bears in what those in the Trojan family call “the Weekender.”

Normally, the Weekender is for taking the trip up to NorCal, turning up in the Bay Area with your fellow Trojans and happily watching the Trojans roll Cal, per usual.

This year though, things could be different. But before we talk about that, let’s talk about Texas for a hot second.

First of all, could USC be anymore Hollywood with how they go about winning games? Much like when Sam Darnold led the squad on the game-tying, triumphant siege against Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl, the Trojan quarterback similarly marched down the field to put USC in position to eke out a 27-24 double-overtime victory over the Texas Longhorns.

But in this storybook ending, it was neither Darnold, nor his favorite wide receiver Deontay Burnett that made the play.

Cue the freshman, walk-on kicker from off screen, waltzing in to save the day in literally his second ever field goal attempt.

Nobody knew Chase McGrath before that kick, but we certainly know him now.

Because it wasn’t just that he made the game-tying, 31-yard field goal that sent USC and Texas into overtime. It was that he turned around and drilled a 43-yarder just a few moments later, securing the victory for head coach Clay Helton and company.

Merchants of drama and spectacle, these Trojans certainly know how to put on a show, even if the price of entertainment is suffering a coronary.

While watching the game, it felt like USC was not good. Like, super not good. The high-powered offense that took Stanford to task the week before was struggling to score on the Longhorns defense that gave up 51 points to Maryland and was shredded for 482 yards of total offense.

USC gobbled up 462 yards themselves, with 392 of them coming through the air. And that’s an interesting thing, when you consider how much it seemed like USC’s wide receiver corps as a whole had a case of the drops.

Add that to the fact that the Longhorns completely sold out to stifle the run. The “Texas Tesla” Ronald Jones and the electrifying freshman Stephen Carr – who earned 119 yards and two touchdowns and 116 yards, respectively, against Stanford – were limited to 71 combined rushing yards against Texas.

But while the offense looked inept, the Trojan defense had its best showing of the first three weeks. The unit kept Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger running for his life all night and forced four turnovers, including the crucial one on 3rd and goal in double overtime that put the Trojan offense in position to seal the victory.

As prisoners of the moment, it’s easy to think that USC might not be that good. It’s easy to think that their dreams of Pac-12 titles and playoff berths may be just that – dreams. But in taking a step back, it’s clear that the Trojans’ win was really just one thing.

Imbalanced.

The Trojans found a way to win in spite of a less-than-stellar offensive performance, an ability that will surely be important as USC navigates this season with no bye week. Not every game can be a blowout, and what will propel the Trojans into the same conversation with the likes of Alabama, Clemson and other playoff hopefuls is their ability to win with their backs against the wall.

USC has done it twice en route to its current, 12-game winning streak, and if you let Darnold tell it, the Trojans always have a chance as long as there’s about 20 seconds left on the clock. Because that’s what winners do. They rise above, even when they shouldn’t.

USC teams of the recent past? They absolutely buckled under the weight of the moment. See examples here…

…here…

…and ugh, here.

But Helton’s Trojans? This team doesn’t quit. It doesn’t fold. It doesn’t shrink away under pressure. It just rolls with the punches until it can knock someone out.

So that brings us to the tilt with Cal on Saturday. Is another Hollywood ending in store? Let’s examine.

As Reign of Troy’s Michael Castillo points out, there’s a lot of history – and more specifically, bad omens – leading into this game. If the Trojans win, it’ll extend their streak to 13 games and will mark a full year since they lost. But, PLOT TWIST – the Trojans’ last loss came to Utah, on the road, and even the date – Sept. 23 – is the same.

So that’s fun.

Oh, but the plot thickens! Castillo further illustrations an uncanny similarity between the Trojans’ clash with Cal and the last time USC was on a hot streak:

“The 2009 streak started the previous October, included a Rose Bowl win over Penn
State and lasted exactly 12 games.

It ended in the first conference road game of the season, against an unranked team —the Washington Huskies— in their first year coached by first-time head coach and former USC coordinator, Steve Sarkisian.

The Trojans’ current streak started last October, includes a Rose Bowl win over Penn State and has gone on for a dozen games thus far.”

And – SURPRISE! – it also pits the Trojans against an unranked conference opponent coached by a former USC coordinator. I mean, what are the odds?! The Golden Bears squad is looking hot already, having beaten North Carolina, Weber State and Ole Miss.

Everything about this game is a recipe for disaster for the Trojans’ season plans.But then, so was Texas, and the Trojans came out on top. Because you know what the Hollywood team does more often than not?

It has the happy ending.