Utah's junior quarterback Travis Wilson led his Utes on an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the game to upend the Trojans of USC 24-21. Wilson's 1-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kaelin Clay capped off the drive, and Automatic Andy Phillips calmly nailed the PAT for the final margin.
"We knew we were going to score," Wilson said. "We executed a play that was called really well and I'm glad that we got it into the end zone."
USC had the game in control, taking over with seven minutes to go and a 21-17 lead. Utah desperately needed to hold on defense to give them one final possession to try to win, but junior quarterback Cody Kessler and the Trojans were rolling. Kessler engineering three first downs on the drive to chew up nearly five minutes of the clock and force Utah to burn one of their timeouts. However, Utah managed to draw the line at their own 28 yard mark, stopping the Trojans on third and two. It would only take a short field goal to force Utah to score a touchdown just to tie the game, but USC kicker Andre Heidari had been recovering from a groin injury. Instead, Southern Cal head coach Steve Sarkisian, once a quarterback at rival BYU, trotted his offense back on the field. Instead of pounding the ball ahead with the Pac-12's leading rusher Buck Allen, they tossed it wide to receiver Nelson Agholor who appeared to pick up the first down that would signal the beginning of the end for the hometown Utes. However, the field official ruled Agholor had stepped out of bounds short of the first down marker, a ruling that was confirmed by replay, and USC turned the ball over on downs, opening the door for Wilson and the Utes.
"I saw a lot of good things tonight," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "USC is one heck of a football team. That is one talented team. They could be one of the most talented teams, man-for-man, in the conference. So, I am proud of the way our guys hung in there and slugged it out for an entire 60 minutes."
Wilson, who has been in and out of the lineup all season due to a tight battle with Oklahoma transfer Kendal, took control of the quarterback battle as he took control of the game. It appeared Wilson had won the game all by himself on a 26-yard scramble for a touchdown, but the review reversed the field ruling of a touchdown and placed the ball at the half yard line first and ten for Utah. With one timeout remaining, the Utes had just enough time for one or two plays, but after running back Devontae Booker was stuffed, Utah was forced to call its final timeout with 12 seconds remaining. After USC used one of its final timeouts to see what the Utes might do, Utah came out and used play action to freeze the middle of the USC defense and leave Clay open in the right flat of the end zone for the winning catch.
The way this one started, you knew it was going to end dramatically. Cornerback Davion Orphey picked up a backwards pass by Cody Kessler, classified as a fumble in the official statistics, and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown to put Utah ahead 7-0 after USC's first offensive series of the game. The Trojans came back with a touchdown drive on their next drive to tie the game at 7-7. Utah tacked on a field goal by Phillips to go up 10-7, but promptly gave up the lead on the kickoff, allowing USC's Adoree Jackson to go 100 yards for the go-ahead score and the 14-10 first half final score.
Utah went up 17-14 near the end of the third quarter on a 24-yard touchdown run by Booker, setting up the drama of the fourth quarter and Wilson's heroics.
"I'm speechless right now," Booker said. "We came out here tonight and started out rough, but we came back and fought our butt off to win the game."
Wilson finished 18-of-32 for 194 yards and one touchdown, while Booker rolled up 102 yards on the ground on 26 carries, an average of 3.9 yards per carry. Tight end Westlee Tonga led the Utes in receiving, catching six passes for 71 yards.
On the defensive side, linebacker Jared Norris posted a team-high nine tackles, while defensive end Jason Fanaika turned in 1.5 tackles for loss and one huge interception off a tipped pass. Sophomore defensive end Hunter Dimick upheld the reputation of Sack Lake City, coming up with a game-high 1.5 sacks.
The win moves the Utes to 6-1 on the season, 3-1 in the Pac-12, and it puts Utah solidly in contention for the Pac-12 South and conference title. More interesting, perhaps, for Utah fans, when the first ever playoff Top 25 is released this coming Tuesday, Utah, a team once outside the Power 5, will be right in the thick of the discussion. The loss drops USC to 5-3, 4-2 and likely eliminates them from division or conference contention.
"Bottom line is the defense hung in there and the offense got going when we needed it to," Whittingham said. "We weren't spectacular on offense, but we were consistent. We threw the ball a lot better. Booker went over 100 yards again and those yards were hard to come by. A lot of good things in the game, but the best thing is that we are 6-1."
After two early bye weeks, Utah has no time for a breather on their road through the Pac-12 conference. Next up for the Utes is another South division elimination game, a Nov. 1 date in the desert with currently No. 14 Arizona State.