USC and Utah don’t have an incredible amount of history having only faced each other 11 times in history, but if last year’s game is any indication, this will be a thriller. The Utes came to Los Angeles to challenge the Trojans at home in the Coliseum and to everyone’s surprise, they really pushed it to the wire. So let’s look back at last year’s edition to see what USC needs to do this time around to keep the game out of reach.
In 2011, USC displayed its running game for the first time in the season when Mark Tyler exploded, rushing for 113 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries. This was Tyler’s first game after serving a minor suspension for various off-the-field antics, including his infamous “University of Sexual Ballers” incident with TMZ. The Utes absolutely could not contain him, and the Trojans effortlessly moved the ball as he broke off huge chunk after huge chunk of yards. The Trojan defense forced QB Jordan Wynn to fumble, which S T.J. McDonald recovered. That play eventually set USC up for Tyler’s TD. Aside from him though, USC’s offense was not particularly stellar, and the only other points that came in the first half were courtesy of Andre Heidari and his golden boot, from 47-yards away.
The Utes would not consider this deficit insurmountable, and they surged back in the second half, bringing the score within three points by the end of the third quarter. The fans in the Coliseum were reduced to a nervous silence, wondering how in their world USC could only lead 17-14 going into the fourth quarter. Surely, this was too close for comfort, and Utah almost turned that fear in their favor. At the very end of the contest, Utah set up for the game-tying field goal that would have sent the inaugural Pac-12 game into overtime. Trojan left tackle Matt Kalil showed up in the biggest moment possible–and foreshadowed just how awesome he would be on special teams as the season went on–when he rocketed his gigantic self into the air and blocked that kick. CB Torin Harris recovered it and ran it back for a touchdown, which was the cause of much controversy after the game.
Initially, the touchdown was not counted and USC did not cover the spread, so Vegas paid out betters whose ticket reflected that call. However, within hours the Pac-12 officials did indeed count the touchdown, bringing the final score to 23-14. With that, USC now covered the spread and Vegas had to pay more people out, much to their anguish.
But really, who even feels bad for Vegas in this situation?
Marc Tyler easily had his finest game as a Trojan in this contest, and Matt Kalil had his first of 57  blocked field goals or punts in 2011. The Trojans escaped, and it was clear that the Utes definitely smelled blood in the water as time ran out.
This time around, anticipate the Utes to have a glimmer of hope that they can pull this upset off. If the Trojans want to avoid that fate, they will need to again quickly establish a running game and they will need to have worked out their passing game woes.
In the series, No. 13 USC is 7-3 all-time but has split results while playing in Salt Lake City. This is the Trojan’s first trip to Utah on a Thursday in 95 years, and they will be playing in front of a very hyped, very unfamiliar sold-out crowd in Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes have gradually looked less and less menacing as the season has gone on but if the Trojans aren’t careful, this game which they should easily put away could very quickly morph into a trap.