USC overcomes errors and upset-minded Utes
USC 38, Utah 28
USC entered unfamiliar territory on Thursday night, with the program playing at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time. It took the Trojans 95 years for a return trip to Salt Lake City, and it would take four quarters to put away the underdog Utes.
Kyle Whittingham needed two things to happen in order for his struggling program to upset the nation’s thirteenth ranked team. The Utes would have to take the ball out of Matt Barkley’s hands, and also make good on all opportunities to score . The first thirty minutes would kill two birds with a single stone, but unfortunately for the optimistic coach, it’s a sixty minute game.
The Trojans opened the game with two fumbles in as many possessions, which led to two Utah recoveries in the first three minutes of play. It was a scenario that couldn’t have been better scripted for the home team, as it quickly converted visitor mishaps into 14 points.
Khaled Holmes would be the game’s early goat, after delivering two bad snaps that skipped the turf and settled in the arms of Utah defenders. The still ailing center was repeatedly forced to his heels by Utah’s Star Lutolelei, who twice disrupted exchanges between the senior and his quarterback, and twice brought the stadium to a roar. Salt Lake City had a 14-0 lead and a first quarter hero, but Trojan poise would shift a change.
USC stared at an early deficit, but maintained its focus and composure. It responded to Utah’s shell-shocking with a 24-7 run, and entered the break with a 24-21 lead. The teams would play to a scoreless draw in the third, with each Utah drive ending with punts, and a Trojan scoring opportunity sailing wide right off the foot of Andre Heidari. The Men of Troy would seal it in the fourth, first silencing the crowd with an 83-yard touchdown strike from Barkley to Marqise Lee, then rushing them to the exits with a Nickell Robey interception returned for a six-points. The final score would read 38-28, which is not nearly indicative of the Trojan dominance on the field or continued struggles of the Utes program.
Southern California faced two enemies in Rice-Eccles Stadium, with one being the upset-minded Utes, and the other being itself. The team was penalized 12 times for 100 yards, with the most damaging occurring in the red zone. Throw in 2 missed field goals, two turnovers, and several missed passes that would have led to big plays, and you will find a scoreboard more explanatory in relation to the box score.
Matt Barkley gave his best performance of the season, finishing 23 of 30 for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns. He played his first game without an interception since the season opener, and his 83-yard touchdown pass to Lee was the longest of his career. Lee led all receivers with 12 receptions for 192 yards, with Robert Woods contributing 6 for 69 yards and a score. It was the first touchdown for Woods, after being held scoreless in the two previous games.
The Trojans rushed for 129 yards on Thursday, but for the third time in five games, they failed to produce a 100-yard runner. Silas Redd finished with a game-high 17 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown, with D.J. Morgan providing support. Morgan saw action in place of the injured Curtis McNeal, who left the game in the first half and didn’t return.
The victory lifted USC to 4-1 overall, and into second place behind Arizona State (4-1, 2-0) in the Pac 12 South. The Sun Devils are on a bye this week, and will play at Colorado next Thursday. Utah’s loss runs its season record to 2-3, which will keep it in the south cellar with Arizona.
- Along with RB Curtis McNeal, Randall Telfer also failed to finish the game. The tight end appeared on the sideline with ice on his ankle and never returned.
- Nickell Robey’s fourth quarter interception was his first of the season and the ninth for the Trojans this year.
- The USC defense forced Utah to 6 punts in 12 possessions. 2 Utah possessions ended in turnovers, and another with a blocked field goal attempt.
- Utah was outscoring opponents 34-3 in the third quarter, but was held scoreless in the period for the second consecutive game.
- With Utah falling to 2-3 overall, USC has not played and defeated a team with a winning-record this season.