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.