Grinding Gears: Trojans’ rematch stands on its own

first_imgAll week long, we heard the narrative, the hype, the history — all about this vaunted “rematch” between No. 4 USC and Texas.Never mind that it had been more than a decade since that infamous Rose Bowl game. Never mind that most of the players in Saturday’s game weren’t yet teenagers when Vince Young scampered in for that back-breaking touchdown to win the 2006 national championship. Never mind that USC is a playoff contender while Texas isn’t even ranked.None of that mattered to FOX, the network broadcasting Saturday’s matchup, which showed countless promos and flashbacks featuring that game. Or to either USC or Texas, both of which brought out their stars to Los Angeles. Matt Leinart. Vince Young. Matthew McConaughey.OK, one of those three didn’t play in that 2006 game. But randomly seeing the movie star and Longhorns supporter on the sidelines was quite a scene. And it very much contributed to the game’s buildup.“We tried to settle [the hype] down, but it kept coming back — TV commercials and everything like that,” redshirt senior safety Chris Hawkins said. “It’s not like we don’t see those things. They always want to make that a big part of the game. They brought all their players back. We brought all our players back. They had celebrities on their sideline. We had celebrities on our sideline.”Concocting storylines in sports, though, rarely works out. Yes, this was a matchup between two storied programs that once combined for one of the greatest college football games ever. And yes, this is what probably drew over 84,000 fans to the Coliseum on Saturday.But it wasn’t what made the game special. Nobody is going to compare Saturday’s game to the 2006 Rose Bowl and argue that it was just as good, or that USC had “redeemed” itself in some way — because it didn’t. This USC team is not out to avenge the sorrows of the 2005 team; rather, it is trying to pave its own legacy, its own chapter of greatness. And Saturday’s thrilling double-overtime win over Texas that took every ounce of energy this team could muster was proof it doesn’t need to live in the glory days of the past to be a force in the present.“We knew [the game] was important to our fanbase, but it was 12 years ago,” head coach Clay Helton said. “To a lot of these kids, they were just 6 years old. It was more important for us, for our season.”Because let’s be honest: If this was truly a rematch of that epic game, then both teams’ first half performances were an insult to everything that the 2006 Rose Bowl represented. Nobody could convert on fourth down. There were fumbles and interceptions and pick-sixes and missed field goals and dropped catches and punts — lots of punts. It was an ugly game, a snooze-fest until the first points finally came with five minutes left in the second quarter, and then again in the second half until redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold came to life late in the fourth quarter and overtime and added to his legend at USC.Here’s what made this game special. It was the fact that USC overcame a hungry and feisty Texas team led by a head coach in Tom Herman, who entered the game 6-0 all-time against ranked opponents. It was the fact that USC found a way to win despite having no run game whatsoever and with Darnold MIA for a majority of regulation. It was the fact that, in a game in which USC could have easily seen its hype train careen off the rails, the Trojans stayed poised and patient, and hung in there despite not bringing their A-game.“In the middle of the second quarter, I was like, ‘Dang. This Texas defense really has our number, to be honest,’” Darnold said.And it did. To watch a dynamic talent in Darnold and a deadly 1-2 running back punch in junior Ronald Jones II and freshman Stephen Carr all sputter was frustrating, and the longer the struggles carried on, the more the thought that Texas could pull the upset crept into everyone’s head.The Longhorns, in fact, were 45 seconds away from doing so. They had already achieved their version of the Vince Young “he’s-going-for-the-corner” play when quarterback Sam Ehlinger found Armanti Foreman in the end zone to give Texas a 17-14 lead late in the fourth quarter.But this time, there would be no regrets for USC, no failed Reggie Bush lateral or Pete Carroll not putting Bush on the field on fourth-and-two. This time, there was only Darnold, with the game — and national championship hopes on the line — marching the Trojans down the field, throwing one clutch strike after another: a miraculous jump pass to Carr, a money throw to redshirt senior wide receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. that set up the game-tying field goal to force overtime as the Coliseum went delirious. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget in my life, the best two-minute drive I’ve ever been associated with,” Helton said. And then the touchdown bullet to junior wide receiver Deontay Burnett on the first play of overtime, the strip by redshirt sophomore linebacker Christian Rector in double-overtime, the game-winning field goal by walk-on freshman placekicker Chase McGrath that conjured up 2017 Rose Bowl flashbacks — pure ecstasy, even a bit of numbness wondering what the hell you just watched. So, perhaps there was something in this game for everyone. For the old-timers, there was the sense of satisfaction of finally beating Texas. For the newer crowd, there was a thrilling win, a gritty performance and a massive sigh of relief. But most importantly, for the players, it didn’t matter. “It’s a win,” Darnold said. “I don’t know where it ranks.” It would be hard-pressed to rank any game higher than the 2006 Rose Bowl. But then again, Darnold was 8 years old at the time. Right now, the 20-year-old Darnold and his teammates are carving out their own legacy. And more than just a rematch, Saturday’s game was another step toward accomplishing what the 2005 team couldn’t do.Eric He is a junior studying journalism. He is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Mondays.last_img read more