What a comeback by Utah! Down 24-10 at one point in the third quarter, Utah rallied to score 14 points in the fourth quarter to drop USC by a final score of 31-27. The win all but dooms USC’s conference title hopes, while it places Utah in the Pac-12 South driver’s seat for the moment. Here’s how Utah’s performance graded out.
When’s the last time you saw Utah’s offense outplay the defense? It’s been a while, but the offense came through on a night when things weren’t going so well on the other side of the ball. Troy Williams had his best game as a Ute, completing 21 of 34 passes for 270 yards 2 touchdowns and most importantly no interceptions. Williams was particularly impressive on the game winning drive, marching the Utes 93 yards on 15 plays, making several key throws including the game winner to Tim Patrick with 16 seconds remaining.
Speaking of Patrick, he had yet another impressive performance, this time against Pac-12 competition. Patrick beat freak athlete Adoree Jackson on a few deep routes and also managed to get open and make some critical catches on the last drive. He finished with 6 cathces for 100 yards and the game winning touchdown reception.
Utah had their way running the ball early with Zack Moss and Armand Shyne. USC adjusted and was able to limit them somewhat in the second half, but both came up big when needed. Shyne and Moss each converted key fourth downs on the final drive that kept Utah’s chances alive. The two combined for 152 yards rushing and are beginning to look like a formidable backfield duo.
The offensive line played a big role in Utah’s comeback as well, protecting for Williams and opening holes in the running game for the backs. Guard Isaac Asiata came up huge when Shyne fumbled crossing the goal line, digging the ball out of the scrum to score his first ever touchdown and cut the lead to one score. Overall the offense played their best game of the season and are continuing to improve each week.
An uncharacteristic showing for Utah’s defense. Normally the team’s strength, the defense was gashed for big yardage both on the ground and through the air all night. Especially eye popping was USC running back Justin Davis running for 126 yards on just 10 carries. Lowell Lotulelei was injured early in the game as well, which did not help mattters.
Sam Darnold, making his first start, had lots of time to throw, hitting his receivers without issue for most of the game. The Utah defense gave a lot of cushion to the Trojan receivers and they took full advantage. JuJu Smith-Schuster had 98 yards receiving on 8 catches, coming within a yard of matching his production over the first three games combined. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell Jr. also had big catches finding holes in the zone and torching the Utah secondary.
Overall it was the most disappointing Utah defensive effort in a long time. The defensive front looked totally overmatched and the secondary was soft in coverage. They were able to create some early turnovers on USC’s first three drives however which likely saved the game.
Special teams was mostly solid. Andy Phillips connected 36 yard field goal and made all four extra points. Mitch Wishnowsky continued to look good, averaging 49.7 yards on his three punts and pinned USC deep at their own three yard line in the second quarter. The only real mistake came on the ensuing kickoff after Utah’s first drive. Hayes Hicken kicked off straight at Adoree Jackson, who wasted no time making him pay, returning the kick 100 yards for a touchdown to tie the game and steal the momentum. Hicken didn’t see the field again after the kick, with Phillips taking over kick off duties.
It was a great win for Utah and we were able to see Kyle Whittingham throw caution to the wind on the final drive and play to win, which was awesome to see. It wasn’t always pretty, but Utah got the job done and the offense is continuing to progress. Troy Williams was able to showcase his arm talent and the young running backs both look to have a bright future. Defensively I’m sure it will be a tough week of practice and I have faith Whittingham and Scalley will make the proper adjustments for Cal.