SALT LAKE CITY — In arguably Utah’s best opportunity to finally claim a win in the L.A. Coliseum, the Utes squandered their opportunity and fell to the USC Trojans 30-23 in a Friday battle.
Neither team was perfect, but the Trojans made enough big plays to claim the top spot in the Pac-12 South Division after beating the preseason favorite to win the conference. And Utah really has nobody to blame but itself.
Here are three takeaways from Utah’s disappointing loss.
A yellow flag parade
For all the things that Utah did well, it was all overshadowed by its undisciplined play Friday night. The Utes finished the night with 16 penalties for 120 yards, and many of them were drive-killing penalties.
Utah started out the season as one of the least penalized teams in the country and then erased it in one night of chaos. Everyone was caught up in the holding fest and the refs rightfully called them. Some were more egregious than others, but there didn’t seem to be a desire to correct them.
It’s difficult for an offense to move the ball when they end up going the opposite direction on nearly every drive, and sometimes multiple times on the same drive. A few penalties here and there are manageable, but the onslaught of penalties Friday night is nothing short of inexcusable.
Sure, USC has tremendous athletes that were making it hard on Utah, but holding is never the answer, especially after the team had been called for it early in the game. Although this was not the sole reason for Utah’s loss, it is arguably the one that changed the game for the Utes.
It’s only one game, but if this remains a consistent theme throughout the season, Utah is in a lot of trouble.
Poor play from the offensive line and secondary
Normally, these two units don’t go together, but they were equally poor Friday night. The offensive line was bullied and pushed around, which made it extremely difficult for quarterback Tyler Huntley to get plays off without pressure. This was most evident in Utah’s goal-line attempt late in the second quarter.
Prior to the start of the season the offensive line was a big question mark for the Utes, and after Friday’s performance, there’s no doubt those questions remain. USC brought a lot of pressure and forced Huntley to throw, but Utah accounted for that with tight ends Brant Kuithe and Cole Fotheringham. Still, nothing worked.
Most egregious, though, was the performance of the secondary. Depth at this position was always thin, but the issue came mostly from the starting unit. Players were out of position, late and didn’t anticipate the ball well. As a result, Michael Pittman and his fellow receivers torched the secondary for big play after big play.
USC features some of the most talented receivers in the country, but Utah had multiple opportunities to make plays on balls from backup quarterback Matt Fink. Terrell Burgess’ interception late in the game is just one of many opportunities Utah’s secondary could have had against Fink.
Utah is not likely to face a cadre of receivers like USC has in the coming weeks, but it was an eye-opening performance from the secondary to say the least. Enough so that Kyle Whittingham said after the game that he’s going to likely make some changes.
Huntley the shining star
If there’s one positive thing to glean from Utah’s loss it’s that Tyler Huntley is a tremendous athlete and doesn’t receive the credit he’s due. Huntley was arguably the best athlete on the offense and he’s not to be blamed in any way for Utah’s loss.
The senior quarterback put his body on the line multiple times throughout the game and staved off sack attempt after sack attempt. His line was doing little to protect him, as mentioned above, be he turned a guaranteed sack into positive yards more times than not.
Additionally, he continued to find holes in USC’s defense to open up the passing game. If not for multiple penalties to negate Utah’s drives, Huntley would have put the Utes in position to score multiple times.
Huntley finished the night throwing for 210 yards and one touchdown on 22-of-30 (73.3%) passing. He also only sustained two sacks — his first of the season — in the game, which is nothing short of amazing. Huntley took the loss hard, but he’s the last person on the team to blame.