Saturday night’s USC vs. Utah score wasn’t indicative how fully outclassed the Trojans (4-3) were in Salt Lake City, as they turned in arguably their worst performance of the year.
The lowdown: The Trojans took an early 14-0 lead at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the back of a miraculous touchdown catch from Michael Pittman on an overwhelmingly ill-advised throw from JT Daniels and a 48-yard scoop and score by Jay Tufele.
That’s when the USC vs. Utah score looked favorable for Clay Helton’s team. It wouldn’t last.
The Utes scored the game’s next 34 points, a run including four scoring drives of at least 66 yards. Quarterback Tyler Huntley continued his stellar play in October, passing for 341 yards and four touchdowns to the tune of a 220.2 passer rating, while adding 33 yards on the ground.
The Trojans’ offense didn’t have quite the success. They had six three-and-outs, only 99 first-half yards and got just three quarters out of Daniels, who left with a concussion before converting a third down. In his absence, Matt Fink led a pair of fourth quarter touchdown drives.
USC was out-gained 541 to 205 in total yards and gained 41 of their 73 rushing yards in the fourth quarter with Fink at quarterback.
The takeaway: Did you watch the Texas game? The one where USC went up 14-3 and gave up 34-straight points before ultimately losing 37-14? Saturday night was a sequel. Only a poorly made one, without all of the precarious moments that could’ve given even you hope for the Trojans’ future if you squinted in denial.
There wasn’t a productive quarter from the first-team offense to point to. There wasn’t a what-if safety or a woulda-coulda-shoulda blocked field goal that paved the way for enormous momentum swings against USC.
In numerous ways, Texas didn’t feel like a 23-point loss despite the all too-similar lack of a run game and a gaseous performance by a worn-down defense.
Yet Saturday night’s game felt like at least a 23-point drubbing at the hands of Utah instead of 13, if not 33, 43 or even 53.
Going an entire half with just one drive of more than three plays is inexcusable. Having what felt like an entire press box calculating when USC would record their first non-penalty or non-touchdown first down is embarrassing. Not being able to convert a third-down with your five-star quarterback in the game is mind-numbing.
There’s nothing else to say about it. And Utah, like a good, well-coached team that they are, exploited every second of it, eating clock, wearing down Clancy Pendergast’s aggressive defense and getting a stellar night from Huntley.
Player of the game: Michael Pittman accounted for 77 percent of USC’s total offense in the first half, including his spectacular three-flags-up touchdown behind multiple Utah defensive backs. He’s been far away the best Trojan on offense the last two weeks.
Stat of the game: USC’s 205 yards of total offense is their fewest in a game since the 52-6 blowout loss to Alabama in 2016.
Next on tap: The Trojans return to the Coliseum where they’ll face Herm Edwards’ 3-4 Arizona State Sun Devils.