This was how it was supposed to be this season for USC. Speedy wide receivers slicing up defenses, while a running game chews up yardage and clock thanks to a dominant offensive line. A defense that matches the offense with big plays of its own. And a top five opponent sent home to lick its wounds. But thanks to a topsy-turvy, inconsistent start to the season, USC’s 42-24 win over Utah will go down as the upset that wasn’t.
Despite carrying in three losses to Utah’s none, bookmakers saw underachieving USC for what it was: a team capable of doing exactly what it did to the third-ranked team in the country.
The Trojans trailed 14-7 after the first quarter, but completely dominated from there. Cameron Smith got the ball rolling with a 41-yard interception return early in the second quarter, setting Soma Vainuku up for a game-tying one-yard touchdown plunge. Ronald Jones II gave the Men of Troy the lead with an 18-yard touchdown run with 3:40 to go before the half, and Smith added to it by snaring another Travis Wilson pass and racing it 54 yards for a touchdown.
Utah’s Andy Phillips added a 35-yard field goal just before the half to bring the score to 28-17, but that proved to be a brief respite in the midst of a route.
USC added to the lead by moving 83 yards over 17 plays and nearly nine minutes, culminating in a one-yard Cody Kessler sneak, then marched another 92 yards over eight plays and four minutes, capped by a 25-yard pass from Kessler to JuJu Smith-Schuster. The second score was set up by – you guessed it – another Smith interception. The true freshman was Wilson’s second-leading receiver on the night with three grabs for 122 return yards and a touchdown.
Utah added a cosmetic score with four minutes remaining when Wilson hit the Utes’ only bright spot of the evening, Britain Covey, for a 66-yard touchdown. Covey snagged seven receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns and set up Utah’s other touchdown with a 40-yard punt return.
Make no mistake, this night was about USC, and USC performing like the team it’s capable of being. Kessler hit 21-of-28 throws for 264 yards and a touchdown, Jones and Justin Davis combined to rush 34 times for 139 yards and two scores, and Smith-Schuster contributed eight grabs for 143 yards and a score.
So, what now? USC sits at 4-3 overall and 2-2 in Pac-12 play, good for fourth in the Pac-12 South. But the Trojans hold tiebreakers over Utah and Arizona State, and UCLA waits ahead on the schedule. Utah owns control of the Pac-12 South despite the loss, but the team that took the field Saturday night has at least one more loss ahead on the schedule.
The USC team that took the field Saturday night is absolutely capable of winning out, winning the Pac-12 South and avenging its loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. The USC team that lost to Washington is capable of losing any of its final five games. Which version of these Trojans will win out? Only time will tell.