The Utah Utes leave Los Angeles licking their wounds after getting thumped by USC. Despite a promising start and early 14-7 lead for Utah, USC was the better team on Saturday night. Let's take a look at how the team graded out in their first loss of the season.
The offense was a mess on Saturday night. Travis Wilson threw four interceptions, three of them to USC freshman linebacker Cameron Smith. The turnovers came at key intervals in the game and killed any momentum Utah had going. One of them was returned for a touchdown and the others resulted in USC having the ball deep in their own territory. The offense essentially gave USC 21 points, which is hard to come back from especially on the road against a team like USC. For all the talk of Booker being able to run against the Trojan front seven, the running back only carried the ball 14 times, and only 4 times in the second half. Booker finished with 62 yards rushing, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, but did not ave any touchdowns and was not given the opportunity to be much of a factor in the second half.
Britain Covey managed to have a great game, catching 7 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns including Utah's opening score and a 66 yard reception in the second half. Unfortunately Covey was not enough all by himself. Utah finished just 3-11 on third downs and 0-2 on fourth downs.
Utah has a reputation as a tough defense to run against. USC must not have heard, because the Trojans had no problem rushing for four touchdowns and 116 yards against the Utah front. Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis gashed the Utah defense, wearing out the defensive front over the course of the game. Cody Kessler went 21 for 28 and passed for 268 yards and a touchdown, hitting JuJu Smith-Schuster. The sophomore wide receiver was busy, pulling in eight catches for 143 yards.
The defense did a decent job keeping the Trojan offense from getting the big play, holding Adoree' Jackson to just 37 yards on six receptions, but USC was able to move the ball consistently all night, going on long methodical drives up and down the field. A Utah defense that has relied on turnovers so much this season, failed to force any turnovers for the first time this season. If there was ever a night Utah needed some big plays from the defense, Saturday was that night, and the defense wasn't able to do it.
The Special Teams unit rebounded from an abysmal performance against Arizona State and was one of the few bright spots for Utah on Saturday. Britain Covey had a brilliant punt return in the first half, weaving his way through the USC coverage unit, before he was finally brought down just short of the end zone. That set up a Bubba Poole touchdown run just one pay later.
Tom Hackett had a decent night, landing three of his five punts inside the USC 20 yard line. Utah's punt coverage was good as well, limiting Adoree' Jackson to -1 punt return yards. Kickoff coverage was good as well, holding USC's explosive returners in check.
Andy Phillips hit a spectacular 53 yard field goal to the end the first half. He also was perfect on point after attempts hitting three of three.
Utah didn't look ready to play on Saturday night. Being the no.3 ranked team and the underdog going into the Coliseum, it seemed as though Utah would play with more of a chip on their shoulder. There was no chip to be found however and the team let USC took it to the Utes instead of the other way around. Gionni Paul made a comment after the game idicating he didn't expect USC to come out and "hit us in the mouth." The comment makes it seem like maybe the players and coaching staff took the three loss Trojans a little too lightly.
The talk going into the game focused on USC's inability to stop the run, and Booker seemed poised to have a big day. The play calling however didn't call on Booker as much as many expected however, as Booker got only four carries after the half, despite rushing for 52 yards on ten carries in the first half. Wilson didn't look well prepared for the USC defense and seemed confused about USC coverages and pressure. In the second half the team did not play with any sense of urgency and looked defeated despite only being down eleven to early after the break. The coaching staff is normally very good about getting the team up for big games, but for some reason this week, the team fell flat.