USC escapes early deficit in win over Utah

Khaled Holmes is a Rimington Award Watch Lister. By and large, he’s considered the top center in the country. He had a bad start for No. 13 USC on Thursday night in Utah.

A low snap out of the shotgun was recovered by Matt Barkley and stripped away by Utah defensive lineman Nate Fakahafua, who ran it into the endzone to give the Utes a 7-0 lead. It was USC’s first possession of the game.

On their next possession, Holmes was called for holding on Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei negating a Silas Redd run. Then he snapped the ball early, resulting in a fumble that was recovered by Lotulelei.

Two plays later, Utah was up 14-0. There was 12:15 left in the first quarter and Utah was kicking off to the Trojans for the third time in the game.

Wacky things happen on Thursday nights. Lane Kiffin said he talked to his team about “weathering the storm” on the road and in a hostile environment.

It was a category 92 downpour at Rice-Eccles Stadium with Lotulelei making it rain on the Trojans.

Somehow they had to get through the storm and fortunately for them, they still had 57-plus minutes to do so.

Order seemed to be restored when Barkley found Robert Woods for a six yard touchdown in the second quarter that helped USC take a 24-21 lead into the locker room at halftime –a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, in a 38-28 win over Utah (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12 South).

But it took some doing to get there.

It started by first double teaming Lotulelei and then running away from him.

130 of USC’s 433 yards of total offense were on the ground. They were able to withstand 14 penalties and a scoreless third quarter.

The Utes felt comfortable with their cornerbacks and played one safety deep, which allowed the USC passing game to take flight. Unlike the two-high looks they’d been getting for the past couple of weeks.

Barkley, who was seen on the sideline smiling and trying to rally his teammates after the early deficit, was poised in leading the USC (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12 South) comeback.

In the fourth quarter, he connected with Marqise Lee on an 83-yard touchdown pass to give the Trojans some breathing room, at 31-21, on a one-play drive. Lee finished with 12 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown. He dropped a pass late that would have put him over 200 yards receiving and likely could have been a touchdown as well.

Xavier Grimble dropped a touchdown pass, but Barkley was still able to complete 77% of his passes. He finished the game 23-30 for 303 yards and three touchdowns. It’s the 12th 300-yard game of his career. It’s the first time since the season opener that he didn’t throw an interception.

The Trojans battled injuries as well. At one point in the second half they were without running backs Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd, and tight end Randall Telfer. McNeal didn’t have a carry in the game.

There was a scary moment in the first half when Woods had his bell rung while trying to block on a USC punt return. He was down on the turf, proceeded to get up and then stumbled back to the turf. He was able to walk off of the field under his own power. He was given a concussion test, passed, and was allowed to return to the game.

The USC defense allowed 304 yards. They held the Utes scoreless in the second half until a late touchdown run by Kelvin York with 38 seconds remaining in the game.

Nickell Robey had a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown.