SALT LAKE CITY — Another year and another USC Trojans victory over Utah at the Coliseum.
Coming off an overtime loss to BYU last Saturday, the Trojans (3-1, 2-0) answered back Friday with a 30-23 upset win over the visiting No. 10 Utah Utes (3-1, 0-1) in a chippy contest between the two programs. Both South Division programs have traded home wins for most of Utah’s time in the Pac-12, and Friday was no different.
The Utes never led in the game but managed to make it a one-point game to start the fourth quarter. But USC backup quarterback Matt Fink orchestrated one final scoring drive — a five play, 69-yard drive that was capped off with a four-yard rushing touchdown by Markese Stepp — to seal the win for the Trojans.
USC struggled for much of the night to establish a ground game against a stingy front unit from Utah, but Fink made highlight-reel passes to his three star receivers, including an impressive performance from Michael Pittman Jr., who finished with 232 yards and one touchdown on 10 catches, to set the tone for the win.
“That was a really, really talented group. I don't know if we'll see a group as talented all the rest of the year,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We just couldn't locate the ball. Oftentimes we were in position, but we couldn't locate the ball, just couldn't find it. They'd go up and snatch it and we seemed a little disoriented at times back there.”
Fink finished the night throwing for 351 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-30 passing to outmatch Utah’s man-to-man coverage for much of the night. Utah attempted to switch it up in the second half, which mostly worked, but struggled to maintain the effort throughout the duration of the game.
“I think that we just came out and we weren't ready, man,” Utah safety Julian Blackmon said. “I feel like this is what we practice for, but we came out a little slow and they just kept on going.”
The backup quarterback did throw a costly interception to Utah’s Terrell Burgess, who returned it for 29 yards to set Utah up with prime position for a fourth-quarter touchdown — a two-yard pop pass toss from senior quarterback Tyler Huntley to tight end Cole Fotheringham.
The play nearly shifted the momentum into Utah’s favor, but a safety on Utah’s ensuing drive swung the momentum back in USC’s favor before Stepp scored the Trojans’ final touchdown.
The Trojans lost starting quarterback Kedon Slovis on the second play of the game after Utah’s Leki Fotu tackled him to the ground just after he got a pass off to one of his receivers. Slovis lay on the ground before eventually being taken to the locker room for the night.
Fink entered the game and immediately set the tone with a quick drive that was capped off with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughns for the first score of the game. Fink, again, orchestrated a quick scoring drive on the next series that was capped off with a 31-yard toss to Amon-Ra St. Brown after Utah’s Devin Lloyd narrowly missed bringing Fink down with a sack.
Fink continued the scoring in the second half with a 78-yard bomb downfield to Michael Pittman for a touchdown to give the Trojans an 11-point lead early in the third quarter.
Despite the strong showing in the passing game, USC finished the night with only 13 net yards rushing. For much of the night, USC was in the negative, including minus-15 yards rushing at the halftime break.
Utah’s Huntley was the highlight for the offense in the loss, but spent much of the night scrambling as Trojans defenders continued to blow up his offensive front unit. Still, Huntley managed to throw for 210 yards and one touchdown on 22-of-30 passing.
The Utes got their first score of the night on a 17-yard rushing play from backup running back Devonta’e Henry-Cole following USC’s opening-drive score. The Trojans keyed in on starting running back Zack Moss and limited him to only 20 yards before he left the game with an apparent shoulder injury.
Henry-Cole and Devin Brumfield took the lion’s share of the carries for the remainder of the game and managed 247 net rushing yards on the night. The pair combined for 94 yards and one touchdown.
Utah finished the night with a blocked field goal attempt — a 41-yard try by Jadon Redding in the first quarter — and a fumble inside USC’s 5-yard line before the halftime break. Utah was on USC’s 2-yard line, but Brumfield had the ball knocked out and the Trojans recovered.
Both teams struggled with discipline on the night and combined for 27 penalties for 237 yards. Utah finished with 16 penalties for 120 yards, most of them coming from holding calls and a couple of unsportsmanlike conduct calls, including one from Whittingham for arguing with a ref.
“You've got to play cleaner in that, and that was certainly a huge factor (in the loss),” Whittingham said. “We've got to be better there.”