USC escaped Saturday's showdown against Texas with a 27-24 victory in double overtime thanks to Chase McGrath's game-winning 43-yard field goal.
In the first meeting between these two historic programs since the 2006 Rose Bowl, when Vince Young carried the Longhorns to a national title, USC extended its winning streak to 11 straight games behind quarterback Sam Darnold's season-high 397 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Texas true freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger's 17-yard touchdown pass to Armanti Foreman with 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter to take a 17-14 lead had Texas on the verge of a shocking upset over the fourth-ranked team in the nation.
USC went into attack mode, trying to keep its perfect record this season intact. Darnold led the Trojans 52 yards to set up McGrath's game-tying 31-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.
Darnold's 25-yard touchdown pass to Deontay Burnett on the first play of overtime put USC right back on top, 24-17, and put the pressure back on Ehlinger.
Needing just four plays, Ehlinger found Cade Brewer for a three-yard score to push it to a second overtime tied at 24.
USC defensive end Christian Rector made a huge play on Texas' possession in the second overtime, stripping Ehlinger on the Longhorns' 3-yard line. The Trojans recovered, setting up McGrath's heroics to end the game.
Darnold's turnover problems continued in this game, as he threw two interceptions for the third straight week. He was able to make up for those miscues thanks to his late heroics in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Even though Darnold's overall numbers didn't look great, Joey Kaufman of the Orange County Register did note the USC star wasn't getting a lot of help from his wide receivers:
The entire tempo of the game changed in the final three minutes of the first half. Both teams were struggling to move the ball and had been kept off the scoreboard up to that point.
USC finally broke through with 2:40 remaining in the second quarter when Darnold found Deontay Burnett in the back of the end zone for a terrific touchdown catch.
It appeared as if USC would be able to compose itself in the second half and keep rolling. The defense forced a Texas punt on the ensuing drive with just 30 seconds left, but Darnold opened the door for the Longhorns with a turnover and a DeShon Elliott pick-six:
The first-half excitement still wasn't finished. Velus Jones Jr. returned the kickoff 37 yards to USC's 38 with 10 seconds left. After a six-yard run by Ronald Jones II, Darnold scrambled to find his star running back for a 56-yard score aided by a huge block from wide receiver Steven Mitchell Jr.
All of that led to USC taking a 14-7 lead at halftime. It was a miracle Texas kept the game that close because the Longhorns were outgained, 239-90, allowed more than 19 minutes in time of possession and had two turnovers in the opening 30 minutes.
Justin Wells of Inside Texas also provided this statistical nugget from the first half:
Texas gave the start to Ehlinger, his second in as many weeks. He was running all over the place most of the game, trying to escape the clutches of USC's defense after being taken down behind the line of scrimmage three plays in a row in the second quarter.
Ehlinger did everything in his power to keep Texas in the game. He finished 21-of-40 for 298 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions despite seeing regular pressure from a fierce and relentless Trojans front seven.
One reason the Longhorns hung around in this game despite what the stats show is the defense's ability to bend without breaking.
Texas also contained USC's two-headed rushing monster of Jones and Stephen Carr. That duo combined for 235 rushing yards last week against Stanford, with both players going over the 100-yard mark.
Against the Longhorns, Jones and Carr had 75 yards on 27 carries. They did contribute in the passing game with 98 yards on four receptions. USC averaged just 1.9 yards per carry in the game. The Texas defense also stopped USC three different times on fourth-down attempts.
Trailing 14-10 in the final minute of the third quarter, Texas head coach Tom Herman tried to pull a fast one when punter Michael Dickson took off for 14 yards on 4th-and-4, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty.
The Longhorns had another special teams blunder of a different sort when Reggie Hemphill-Maps tried to return a punt from USC's 2-yard line that was stuffed right away.
Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com did not like Texas' approach on special teams:
Later on the ensuing drive, Ehlinger was surprised by a snap from the shotgun on 3rd-and-1. He picked the ball up near his own end zone and threw it away to avoid a bigger disaster, but the miscue did force Texas to punt.
Darnold's second interception of the game gave Texas new life. The Trojans standout simply overthrew his target and the ball went into the waiting arms of Longhorns safety DeShon Elliott, who returned it to USC's 30-yard line.
Texas' offensive struggles and Ehlinger's inexperience continued to show when Marvell Tell III stepped in front of a pass to get USC the ball back four plays later.
As Dustin McComas of OrangeBloods.com noted, the little things were not working for Texas on this night:
Texas got one final chance to redeem itself with a drive starting at its own 9-yard line with 4:53 remaining in the fourth quarter. Ehlinger took two big shots downfield, succeeding on the second one when Collin Johnson won a jump ball for a gain of 47 yards down to the USC 25.
Three straight incompletions by Ehlinger set up a 4th-and-10 to decide the game. He finally connected with Foreman for 11 yards to keep the drive alive. They found each other again two plays later for the go-ahead score.
Ehlinger earned his share of fans for his performance Saturday night:
Herman and the Longhorns won't be happy to take the moral victory, as he said after the game, especially since it drops their record to 1-2.
"There are no moral victories in college football...but to be in a position to win the game says a lot at how much we've grown," Herman said, via Bryan D. Fischer of College Football Talk.
Despite not getting to the top of the mountain Saturday, Texas is moving in the right direction.
USC still needs to shore up elements of its game if it hopes to challenge for a playoff spot this season. Darnold will often dazzle with his play, but six interceptions in three games is a lot for one of the nation's best quarterbacks to have.
The Trojans were also coming off the emotional high of dominating Stanford, 42-24, last week. A narrow win over Texas is just what they needed to remind themselves how much work is left to be done this season.