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
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
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