Dominant defense propels USC past Utah 19-3

Cody Kessler passed for 230 yards, Nelson Agholor scored the

game’s only touchdown on an early 30-yard reception, and Southern

California’s defense forced four turnovers in a 19-3 victory over

Utah on Saturday.

Andre Heidari kicked four field goals for the Trojans (5-3, 2-2

Pac-12), who persevered despite a daunting injury list for their

second victory in three games under interim coach Ed Orgeron.

Travis Wilson passed for just 51 yards and threw two

interceptions while obviously struggling with a sprained finger for

Utah (4-4, 1-4), which has followed up its stunning victory over

Stanford with consecutive losses to Arizona and USC. The Utes

haven’t won at the Coliseum since 1916.

USC’s defense was dominant, yielding just 201 yards while

holding the Utes scoreless after their opening drive.

Both offenses struggled mightily at the Coliseum, but Heidari

set a career high for field goals after nearly losing his job

during the week. The junior missed two field-goal attempts at Notre

Dame last week in USC’s 14-10 loss.

With Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Marqise Lee leading the

long list of injured Trojans unable to play, Agholor shrugged off

his aching ribs and caught six passes for 97 yards. Freshman

Darreus Rogers added five catches for 62 yards, offsetting an

ineffective USC running game.

USC was down to fewer than 50 scholarship players against the

Utes, and a few more Trojans got hurt during the game, resulting in

some desperate decisions for a program already faced with badly

depleted depth from NCAA scholarship sanctions.

Walk-on Chris Willson, a former pitcher at Wake Forest, caught a

pass late in the first half with USC’s top four tight ends

unavailable to play. Injured safety Dion Bailey watched the first

half in street clothes before suiting up for the second half when

freshman star Su’a Cravens strained his groin while returning an

interception late in the first half.

And when USC right tackle Kevin Graf was taken up the Coliseum

tunnel on a cart after injuring his left ankle in the first half,

three players had to switch positions on the Trojans’ beleaguered

offensive line to cover for him.

Utah’s injury problems were more straightforward: Wilson didn’t

look right while playing despite injuries to his throwing hand from

last week’s loss to Arizona. Wilson rushed for 42 yards, but was

unable to throw the ball consistently, going 5 for 14.

Backup Adam Schulz was even worse, going 7 for 17 after throwing

an interception on his first attempt in the final seconds of the

first half.

USC’s offense hadn’t shaken off its Notre Dame struggles in the

first half, failing to convert a third down. But cornerback Josh

Shaw intercepted a pass that went right through a Utah receiver’s

hands late in the first quarter, and the Trojans converted a

fourth-down attempt before Agholor somersaulted into the end

zone.

Heidari kicked three field goals for USC in the second quarter,

all three on short drives set up by big plays from the Trojans’

defense: A fumble recovery by Anthony Sarao, an interception by

Leon McQuay III and another by Cravens, who returned his pick 54

yards on a rambling run with 4 seconds to play.

USC ended a string of 17 failed third-down attempts early in the

second half and went up 19-3. Utah didn’t complete a pass in the

third quarter until the final play, and a long punt return by Geoff

Norwood led only to a drive that stalled at the 6 and a failed

field-goal attempt.