USC Football feeds optimism and pessimism in performance vs. Utah

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC Football’s performance against Utah was fodder for both the optimistic and pessimistic side of the Trojan fanbase as they improved to a bewildering 6-1.

Two days removed from USC Football’s 28-27 win over Utah, it’s still hard to get a handle on how to feel about the performance.

The game appealed to both the pessimists and optimists in the fanbase and around college football.

Pessimists got plenty of fodder to linger on over the coming week as the Trojans’ sloppy first half spotted Utah a sizable lead.

The Utes were 13-point underdogs coming into the Coliseum. They lost by a single point, failing to convert a two-point try after successfully scoring a touchdown with under a minute remaining.

USC’s first half performance was so familiar that it can’t be passed off as just a bad outing. The Trojans were sloppy and turnover-prone, handing the ball back to Utah three times, including a devastating scoop-and-score.

Adding to the concern, USC’s defense also appeared out of sorts. Utah’s Zach Moss gained 113 yards on the ground in the first half alone, breaking tackles and extending runs. Quarterback Troy Williams hit passes of 50, 40 and 33 yards in the opening half as well. The Trojans had a holding penalty and two pass interference flags thrown against defensive backs. Uchenna Nwosu was offsides on a third down stop.

The halftime score of 21-7 was a fair reflection of the performance of both teams.

The second half was a balm for the optimists.

Defensively, the Trojans opened the half by forcing four consecutive punts. They held Utah to 1-of-7 on third down attempts. They cut the Utes rushing average down to 2.18 per carry, with just 37 yards on the ground.

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Offensively, USC produced three touchdowns on four total drives. Those three touchdown drives went for 98, 88 and 93 yards and put the Trojans in the lead. There were no turnovers. They converted 6-of-8 third down attempts before the kneel-down drive to end the game. They also converted a fourth down attempt.

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A microcosm of varying perspective was on display on the pivotal play of the game, when Ajene Harris tripped up Utah’s Troy Williams just short of the goal line on the Utes’ two-point conversion.

USC’s defense knew the play, a throwback which had worked against the Trojans in previous games. They recognized the misdirect, covered the intended receiver and Harris made the tackle to win the game.

At the same time, leading Ute receiver Darren Carrington was left open at the back of the endzone. If Williams had kept his eyes up, he might have been able to hit his target unmarked. He didn’t, but he could have.

So here are the Trojans, seven games into the season and still kicking the can down the line on answering the big question of 2017: How good is USC?

Pessimists can still see storm clouds ahead, bracing for the next time when USC isn’t able to pull themselves out of the hole they seem to dig for themselves each week, or a quarterback like Williams makes the game-winning play.

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Optimists can simply point and say, “scoreboard.” If nothing else, USC is 6-1 while playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules with an injury-hit lineup. They’ve won close games and maybe, just maybe, the light switched on in that second half against Utah.