LOS ANGELES — It has been a recent phenomenon.
In three of USC’s past four victories, stretching to last January’s Rose Bowl win, its offense has been forced to overcome late deficits.
Against Penn State? The Trojans trailed by 14 points entering the fourth quarter.
In this season’s opener against Western Michigan? They fell behind by a touchdown in the third quarter.
Last Saturday against Texas? They were down by three points, before mounting a final drive to force overtime.
Each time, USC emerged unscathed.
“It just brings out the best in everybody, when you’re challenged to have get it done,” said Tyson Helton, the Trojans’ quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.
The win over Texas was as improbable as any of their recent comebacks.
After the Longhorns took a 17-14 lead with 45 seconds remaining, they held a win expectancy of more than 91 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
When USC regained possession at its 35-yard line, with 39 seconds to go, it had been an uneven evening for its offense. The Trojans had been scoreless in the second half. Quarterback Sam Darnold had been intercepted twice. They showed little signs of life.
It mattered little.
“It starts with Sam,” tight end Tyler Petite said. “You have a leader who is so poised and calm. It just kind of ripples throughout everybody.
“When you have the most important guy on your offense come in and be the most calm and collected out of everybody, even the coaches, you have a guy who’s coming in and saying, ‘lets go score,’ it’s like another day of playing football in the backyard, to be able to see that confidence from someone who is leading the team, it’s calming.”
Darnold, his teammates contend, never shows any worry.
They rallied again.
“He provides one thing to your team no matter how adverse the situation is and that’s hope,” USC coach Clay Helton added.
Darnold started the drive for the tying score against Texas, which ended on a 31-yard yard field goal by freshman walk-on Chase McGrath, with three straight completions, some more difficult.
On one 21-yard pass to freshman running back Stephen Carr, Darnold need more time, so he leaped in the air before floating it downfield to Carr, who was running along the left hashmarks.
“Thirty-nine seconds is an eternity for us,” Tyson Helton said. “We have plenty of time to go score. We won’t necessarily worry about the time, we just worry about what plays we’re going to run.”