Friday night’s USC vs Utah game saw Clay Helton’s Trojans blow a 14-point second half lead to lose to a Troy Williams-led Ute comeback, 31-27.
The lowdown: For the third time in three games in Salt Lake City, USC turned the ball over early on the game’s first drive. The Utes quickly it turned into points on a methodical 12-play, 12-rush drive to take a 7-0 lead.
It wouldn’t last long, as Adoree’ Jackson got the Trojans on the board with a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, his third in his USC career.
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But while a Sam Darnold-led offense looked good early, and the offensive line created big running lanes for Justin Davis, the Trojans fumbled the ball away on their next two drives to put themselves behind the eight ball.
Utah couldn’t exactly take advantage, only capitalizing with a field goal. USC then put together two long scoring drives amassing 145 yards to take a 17-10 lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Trojans took off where they started, dominating the game on offense. An eight-play, 91-yard scoring drive capped off with a Darnold touchdown run made it 24-10.
Davis was gashing a Ute defensive line that was without Lowell Lotulelei. He finished with 126 yards on just 10 carries, becoming the first player to rush for 100 yards against the Utes in two seasons.
The rout should’ve been on, but Utah just wouldn’t die.
Troy Williams led the Utes on two-straight touchdown drives totaling 21 plays and 160 yards to push USC to the brink, 27-24, with a Matt Boermeester field goal giving the Trojans some slight insurance.
Then it all came apart. USC committed six penalties in the second half alone, including a back-breaking illegal man downfield call on Damien Mama that cost a 32-yard pick up to Darreus Rogers to get deep into Utah territory.
After throwing short of the sticks on third down to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Helton had the option of going for it on 4th and 3 at the Utah 37-yard line with just over minutes left.
As he did last week, Helton decided to trot Chris Tilbey out, and pinned Utah at their own seven-yard line with just 5:37 on the clock.
Then Williams took over for good.
Utah went on an incredible 15-play, 93-yard drive, winning the game on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Tim Patrick with 16 seconds left.
Kyle Whittingham rolled the dice three times on fourth down, Utah converted each time and took advantage of a key early drive pass interference penalty on Iman Marshall to get the victory.
It was shades of the 2014 game, when USC opted to go for it on fourth down, didn’t convert and then had Travis Wilson throw a game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds.
The Trojans had their first Pac-12 win of the season pried from their hands and are 1-3 for the first time since 2001.
The takeaway: For the second-straight week, the Trojans’ offense looked to move the ball at will when they wanted to.
USC averaged 7.9 yards per play, got perhaps Justin Davis’s best effort of his career and finally got JuJu Smith-Schuster involved in the passing game.
Everything was working and Sam Darnold finished with a solid line –18 for 26, 253 yards — in his starting debut.
But again, they shot themselves in the foot. This time, it with fumbles in the first half and penalties in the second half.
Three turnovers on the first three drives to start the game, along with a pair of drives settling for field goals cost the Trojans, who had ample opportunities to put up big, crooked numbers on the Utes.
They should’ve stocked piled a sizable lead early, knowing full well that the Trojans’ defense would be gassed by the fourth quarter given Utah’s huge advantage in time of possession.
The altitude, the Utes’ methodical play and a sensational performance from Troy Williams made USC ripe to overcome, when they couldn’t finish off promising drives.
USC Player of the game: Do-everything USC phenom had his best game of the year on Friday night, with a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, a fumble recovery and a pair of pass break ups on defense while guarding Utah’s Tim Patrick.
Utah Player of the game: Troy Williams got his first marquee win at the collegiate level in big-time fashion, leading the Utes back with three-straight scoring drives totaling 36 plays and 253 yards. For Williams himself, he finished 21-for-34 through the air for 270 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns. He added 17 yards and a score with his legs.
Stat of the game: Utah was 4-of-4 on fourth downs and scored touchdowns on both drives in which they went for it.
Next on tap: USC will look to get their first Pac-12 win on Saturday, October 1 at the Coliseum against Arizona State.