BY JIM VERTUNO
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The cheers of “Texas Fight!” had likely never sounded louder, and the postgame singing of the “Eyes of Texas” had never sounded sweeter.
At least not for Texas coach Tom Herman and this group of Longhorns.
Texas gave Herman his biggest win in burnt orange and got one of the program’s biggest victories in years Saturday night, a 37-14 romp over No. 22 Southern California that saw Texas rally early, dominate late and smother the Trojans after the first quarter.
“I ain’t gonna lie: I feel like we kinda proved that we’re back,” Texas cornerback Kris Boyd said. “But it’s just the beginning.”
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, and Anthony Wheeler returned a blocked field goal 46 yards for a score. The Longhorns trailed 14-3 in the first quarter before shutting down freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels and scoring 34 unanswered points.
The win could be a huge boost for a Texas (2-1) program that desperately needs one after eight years without a Big 12 title and a run of bad seasons. Herman is 9-7 with the Longhorns and got this win in front of an energized school-record crowd of 103,507 that stayed to the end and kept up deafening chants of “Texas Fight!”
“There is a bit of release, a bit of a hump that we got over that we can win a big game. Not just come close, but win,” Herman said. “We’ll evaluate where this win stands by how we respond to it, how we play the rest of the season.”
Ehlinger threw touchdown strikes of 47 yards to Lil’Jordan Humphrey and 27 yards to Joshua Moore. Wheeler’s scoop and score came in the third quarter after Texas blocked a 50-yard field goal attempt. The touchdown put the Longhorns up 30-14.
Daniels passed for 322 yards, but the Trojans (1-2) were held to minus-5 yards rushing. Texas made USC one-dimensional and turned its defense loose, USC coach Clay Helton said.
“They wanted to see what J.T. could do in the passing game and forced our hand,” Helton said.
USC: The Trojans were overmatched and will have to regroup to keep their season together. Daniels was sharp in spots and led USC to a pair of first-quarter touchdowns after not finding the end zone against Stanford a week earlier. Personal fouls kept a couple of Texas scoring drives alive — linebacker Porter Gustin was ejected for targeting — and short punts led directly to two Texas scores.
“Obviously not our night,” Helton said. “We’re just not doing it all together right now. And that’s my job.”
Texas: The Longhorns will expect to earn some respect with this win. The defense was dominant and Ehlinger was efficient, playing his first game this season without a turnover. USC hasn’t come close to living up to its preseason expectations, but it’s still a traditional power and Texas pushed the Trojans around. Texas also got program win No. 900, joining Ohio State and Michigan as the only programs to reach that number.
“This needs to be the standard,” Herman said.
The Trojans will fall out of the rankings after their second straight loss. Texas may need to beat No. 15 TCU next week before it can get back in as voters still might be shy about the Longhorns after their season-opening loss to Maryland and recent history.
Texas got a big momentum swing in the second quarter when the Longhorns held the Trojans on 4th-and-goal from the 1. A Trojans touchdown would have put USC ahead 21-13. Brandon Jones, who had been badly beaten on a jump ball pass three plays earlier, made up for it by chasing down USC’s Stephen Carr at the corner.
USC then appeared to tackle Ehlinger for safety, but video review determined he got the ball across the goal line. USC then was penalized for roughing the punter to let Texas escape further damage.
“We weren’t going to let them run the ball in,” Texas defensive end Charles Omenihu said. “We said we were going to bow up, bit our mouthpiece down and get nasty in there.”
Texas has struggled to kick field goals in recent seasons but seems to have fixed the problem with freshman Cameron Dicker. His first three career field goals came in the first half, including two from 46 yards in the second quarter. The second one in the final seconds gave Texas a 16-14 lead at halftime.
USC returns to Pac-12 play Friday night at home against Washington State.
Texas hosts No. 15 TCU next Saturday in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
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