They never said it would be easy. The Salt Lake City crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium was loud and certainly the first quarter gave the fans something to cheer about. But in the end, the talent-laden University of Southern Trojans, led by their outstanding senior quarterback Matt Barkley, rallied to defeat the Utah Utes, pulling away for a 38-28 victory.
Bad couple of minutes
The men of Troy though were on the ropes to start with. Like some scenes right out of the Stanford loss, Khaled Holmes, who missed the defeat in Palo Alto, didn't look like the best center in the country in the first few minutes of the opening quarter. A bad shotgun snap back to Barkley dribbled on the ground and by the time Barkley grabbed the ball, it was stripped away and all of a sudden, USC was down 7-0. On the next drive, a bad snap again resulted in a fumble, recovered by Utah, which turned the short field into another touchdown. Less than three minutes into the game and the Trojans were down 14-0.
The Utes had struggled offensively this year and here the USC Trojans had just handed them 14 points. But the Trojan offense finally secured the snap and moved 75 yards with a mix of run and pass. A good punt return by Nickell Robey set up a field goal and USC had now cut the lead to 14-10. But on the ensuing drive, Utah finally moved the ball with a mix of pass and run like the Trojans had done earlier, driving 81 yards for a touchdown. Once again, the Utes were up by two scores and fans were letting them know it.
Trojan O was on
However, Barkley and USC struck right back down the field with a quick 75 yard three play drive that drew the Trojans within 21-17. After a Utah fumble, combining the hard running of Silas Redd and a couple passes including a touchdown throw to All-American receiver Robert Woods, USC pushed to their first lead 24-21, which they took to the locker room at half.
The Trojans had a chance to open the game up in the third quarter but they bogged down a couple times and Andre Heidari, who is usually a very accurate kicker, inexplicably missed a couple field goals to keep the contest close through three quarters. But in the fourth quarter, USC's sophomore phenom wideout Marqise Lee caught a long bomb down the middle from Barkley, shifting the momentum squarely to the Trojans who were starting to pull away.
Ute quarterback John Hays had an inconsistent night and in the fourth quarter, USC's defense pinned their ears back and forced an interception, which Robey returned 38 yards for a pick-six - the game was effectively over at that point with the Trojans up 38-21.
The USC defense held Utah to only 95 yards rushing and once again was the backbone of the team. But Heisman hopeful Barkley, who had looked almost average to this point in the season, threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions and 303 yards on 23 of 30 passing. Lee had 12 receptions for 192 yards and a touchdown. Redd chimed in with a workmanlike 77 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown.
The #13 Trojans are now 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the Pac-12, while the Utes dropped to 2-3 and 0-2 in conference.
The USC Trojans gave the impression they would be a more balanced offense but in the end, their greatest assets are at quarterback and wide receiver and it showed Thursday night. As a fan, looking at the game as a whole, I thought USC looked better than I've seen them this year. The running game is effective - which is all they need - and the passing game looks like it's ready to bust out.
The key ingredient that looked most improved was the offensive line. Yes, Holmes was outplayed in the first quarter by the Utah Utes NFL superstar of the future tackle Star Lotulelei. But if you watched closely, Holmes played very well after the early miscues. Holmes too, will be a NFL star. There was a cohesiveness I hadn't seen yet this season for the entire O-line.
Meanwhile, Utah faces a tough road, literally. Their next two games are away at #25 UCLA (Saturday October 13th) and #14 Oregon State. USC goes up to Seattle (also Saturday October 13th) to play #23 Washington - so it doesn't get any easier for the Trojans.
Looking ahead, it would appear the USC Trojans are on their way back up to the top but we'll know more accurately after the Washington Husky game.
Sources - University of Southern California, ESPN
Daryle lived in Los Angeles Ca. most of his life and has been a longtime fan of USC and the Pac-12, having closely followed the Trojans since he was just a youngster. Fight On!