Los Angeles, California-It wasn’t pretty but it was a game they really needed to regain respectability. USC beat previously unbeaten Utes on Friday night 30-23 with the win that could start changing the way the pundits view this young Trojan team.
USC are 2-0 in the Pac-12, they’re 3-1 overall, and they’ve somehow transformed their season believing in themselves after the Utes game.
His players, said embattled Coach Clay Helton, “are the definition of fight on, and who don’t know how to quit.”
The game didn’t start out like the Trojans planned with backup-turned-starting quarterback Kedon Slovis being flattened, helped from the field, and lost for the contest with a head injury.
Then enters third stringer Matt Fink Slovis’ replacement and in the first half, he rose to the occasion and got the job done with 203 yards passing on 13 completions and two touchdowns. Both were big-time downfield throws, but the second made by St. Brown was a jump ball situation, in which he came down with the ball.
Fink, a two-year extra who nearly transferred to Illinois last summer, finished the game with 351 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the win. He was a bit uneven in moving the offense, which is to be expected given the situation he was put in, but overall did enough with the deep passes to put points on the board. He never tried to do too much but just took what the defense gave him. The night began with cheers for former coach of Ohio State Urban Meyer as he sat on the field as a commentator for Fox Sports 1, with fans screaming, “H-ire Ur-ban.”
This was very sloppy game played by both teams. The Trojans rushed for 13 yards on 22 attempts. Accepting the kneel downs at the end of the game, most of them ironically came on the final drive when the Trojans needed to close out the contest. Otherwise, USC had negative yardage on the ground for most of the night. Aside from that, USC committed 11 penalties for 117 yards and gave up a 30-yard first down run to Utes running back Devin Brumfield in the second quarter on a second-and-25. The Trojans also turned the ball over twice.
USC was undisciplined but the Utes were worse. Utah committed 16 penalties for 120 yards. Some calls were suspect but there were just too many. It wasn’t the ref’s fault each time the Utes committed a false start or grabbed a jersey. The Utes left points on the field, too, starting with a missed field goal in the first half that was technically blocked twice since USC was flagged for being offsides on the first one.
“I think this is a mentally tough bunch,” Helton said. “Stuff is bad sometimes, and what are you going to do? Are you going to make excuses or get the job done?’ ”
They could have started making excuses in the fourth quarter with Fink struggling and the defense getting punched at the mouth.
The Trojans had led 21-10 at the break, then Fink threw a careless pick that led to a Utes touchdown, which setup the Utes on a third-and-goal from the one-yard line with a shoulder needed to take the lead.
Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao had other plans, he broke through a gap and pulled down quarterback Tyler Huntley in the backfield for a sack, Utah had to settle for a field goal to pull them within 21-20, and the momentum shifted.
On the Utes’ next possession, Drake Jackson forced Huntley into an intentionally grounded pass from the end zone for a safety, USC led 23-20, and the Utes were coming.
“We were all together, grinding it out,” Jackson said. “Tonight we had to grind it out again,”
On the next Trojans’ possession on third down, Fink threw a perfect pass that Michael Pittman Jr. took in stride for a 42-yard gain that broke the Utes’ back and caused the Coliseum to rumble.
“The guy’s a monster,” Fink said of Pittman, who gained 232 yards on 10 catches with a touchdown. “You can’t guard him.”
Three plays later, Markese Stepp scored on a four-yard run but the game was essentially over at that point.
“Not everything was perfect tonight, far from it. We have a lot to clean up,” Helton said. “But I tell you, this team is special and by the end of the season they’re going to be a very special product.”