A sloppy effort led to a disastrous finish for the USC Trojans, whose Pac-12 title hopes took a serious hit in a 24-21 road loss to the Utah Utes. Just eight seconds remained on the clock when Utah quarterback Travis Wilson found a wide open Kaelin Clay for a go ahead one-yard touchdown that gave the No. 19 Utes (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) yet another signature win.
The No. 20 Trojans (5-3, 4-2) took a 21-17 lead with 10:18 remaining in the final quarter on a four-yard touchdown pass from redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler to sophomore wideout Darreus Rogers. USC reclaimed possession with seven minutes to play, but could not convert a fourth-and-short opportunity at the Utah 28-yard line with 2:08 remaining. That was all the time Wilson and the Utes needed for a game-winning drive.
USC head coach Steve Sarkisian managed to find a few positives in his team’s effort, but was ultimately disappointed.
“Utah played a hard-fought game,” Sarkisian said. “Our guys played hard but didn’t get it done.”
A wild opening quarter got off to a less-than-thrilling start for the Trojans. On just the second offensive play of the game, Utah defensive back Davion Orphey scooped up a backward lateral intended for Rogers and took it 53 yards for a touchdown. Orphey’s heads-up play came as most of the USC offense returned to the huddle, figuring the whistle had blown.
The Trojans would respond quickly, however, in the form of a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a 10-yard strike to freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith. Kessler, who came out of the game for a short time after a hard hit, was a perfect 4-for-4 on the series.
The Utes took the lead once again midway through the second quarter, using good field position to set up a 24-yard field goal from All-American kicker Andy Phillips. Unfortunately for Utah, the advantage was short-lived. Freshman cornerback/wide receiver Adoree’ Jackson took the ensuing kickoff 105 yards for a score, giving the Trojans a 14-10 lead. The touchdown marked the second of Jackson’s career — but the youngster was not done yet.
Midway through the third quarter, Utah’s Clay returned a punt 51 yards to the USC 16-yard line. Just as it looked like the Utes would take their second lead of the night, however, Jackson stripped wide receiver Tim Patrick near the Trojans’ one-yard line. Because Patrick was incorrectly ruled down on the play, Jackson was denied a chance at his first career defensive touchdown and USC took the ball at its own 20.
The bad call came back to hurt the Trojans. Almost immediately, linebacker Jason Fanaika intercepted a poor throw from Kessler at the USC 41, leading to a 24-yard touchdown run from Utes’ running back Devontae Booker. To their credit, the Trojans bounced back with the 12-play, 73-yard drive that led to Rogers’ third touchdown of the season. But it would not be enough.
The USC offense was rendered completely ineffective for large portions of the contest, including a stretch that consisted of a fumble, five punts and an interception in a span of eight drives. Kessler, who finished the game 24-for-32 with 264 yards and two touchdowns, was the unit’s lone bright spot, while the Utah defense held redshirt junior running back Javorius “Buck” Allen to just 3.7 yards per carry. Smith tied for a career high with six receptions.
Even through all the sloppiness and questionable play calling, USC still had a lead in the final minutes. Sophomore linebacker Su’a Cravens, who spearheaded a gutsy defensive effort with two sacks, summed up the team’s feelings after the game.
“I’ve been saying it for a couple weeks now, we need to know how to finish,” Cravens said.
The Trojans will aim to pick themselves up off the mat for the third time this season next Saturday, this time against the Washington State Cougars in Pullman, Washington.
“We’ll get back up,” Sarkisian said. “We’ll get back on the horse for next Saturday.”