Matt Fink

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USC takes charge in Pac-12 South after upset of No. 10 Utah

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Late Friday night saw the first upset of the weekend in college football. No. 10 Utah (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) was upset on the road by USC (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12), 30-23, despite the Trojans playing with a third-string quarterback and the Pac-12 officials throwing enough flags to fill five loads of laundry. The win by USC moves the Trojans into a comfortable spot in the Pac-12 South before even getting to October.

USC lost starting quarterback Kedon Slovis on the second play of the game. After Slovis left to be evaluated for a possible head injury, third-string quarterback Matt Fink stepped in to lead the offense. All Fink did was lead USC to touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game and then make some big passes in the second half to keep the Trojans in front of Utah. Fink ended his night off the bench with 351 passing yards and three touchdowns. Michael Pittman Jr. was on the receiving end of 10 of those receptions for a massive 232 receiving yards. The highlight of the night was a 77-yard touchdown pass that saw Pittman come down with a jump ball and then push aside a would-be tackler on his way to the endzone.

A win is a win, fo course, and USC will take them any way they can. On Friday night in the Coliseum, they had to overcome an onslaught of bad penalties. USC was flagged 11 times for 117 yards. Utah had their share of laundry too with 16 penalties called for 120 yards. Both teams were guilty of personal foul penalties as the game was certainly chippy at times. But some of the penalties were questionable at best. Neither coach will walk away from this game feeling great about the discipline or the officiating, as there was plenty of blame to go around in this one.

Utah had their chances to come away with the win, but an inability to defend deep jump ball passes by Fink killed them too often. The Utes ran for 247 yards as a team but managed just one touchdown on the ground. Quarterback Tyler Huntley put his team on the back for much of the night with 210 passing yards and 60 rushing yards, but it was not enough as defenders were able to get to him and bring him under pressure.

In the end, it was just USC’s night, and it was one Clay Helton really needed. For now, USC can live in the moment and not have to worry about distractions about the future of Helton. USC is already 2-0 in conference play with wins against Stanford and Utah. The road is not going to get any easier, with a road game at Washington coming up next week, followed by a trip to South Bend, Indiana to play Notre Dame. But USC ha splayed themselves into a favorable spot in the Pac-12 by being 2-0 and owning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Utah. That gives USC a margin for error in conference play, and they look to be the best team within the Pac-12 South the rest of the season.

While we should be wise not to pencil USC into the Pac-12 championship game just yet (remember, third-string QB and they still have Washington and Oregon to play in a difficult crossover division rotation), but there have been some true signs of promise for the Trojans early on this season. And bouncing back from a hard-fought loss at BYU last week to knock off No. 10 Utah is quite a turnaround for USC.

As USC hits the road to challenge Washington next week, Utah will look to rebound at home in Salt Lake City against Washington State. As of the conclusion of the USC-Utah game, the Washington State Cougars were one of three undefeated teams in the Pac-12 left standing (Cal, Arizona State).

Matt Fink delivers early spark for USC off bench, Trojans leading No. 10 Utah at half

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Playing with a third-strong quarterback, USC is looking to make a statement at home against No. 10 Utah. The Pac-12 contest has been heated from the start with some chippiness and personal foul penalties, and a couple of notable injuries. At the halftime break in the Los Angeles Coliseum, USC leads Utah 14-10.

Utah blew a chance to trim the lead a little bit more or take the lead just before halftime, but a botched handoff by Tyler Huntley led to a fumble recovery by USC in the final 20 seconds of the half from inside the USC five-yard line.

On the second play of the game, USC quarterback Kedon Slovis was removed from the game and examined for a possible head injury. Matt Fink entered the game and led USC to two touchdown drives in the first quarter. Already with over 200 passing yards, Fink and the USC offense ran into a bit of a wall for the rest of the half. USC went three-and-out on their first possession after taking a 14-7 lead. A fumble by Stephen Carr after a 16-yard gain gave Utah possession at their 20-yard line. USC then went three-and-out on their next possession, after the Utes chipped away at the deficit with a field goal.

Later in the half, Utah wide receiver Zack Moss left the game and was being checked for a possible shoulder injury.

Penalties also became a major factor in the second quarter with a handful of questionable roughing the passer and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Utah has already committed nine penalties for 75 yards, while USC has done their part to have laundry thrown on the field with six penalties for 70 yards. The officials have certainly earned their paycheck tonight so far.

USC QB Kedon Slovis injured on second play of game vs. Utah

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USC quarterback Kedon Slovis started Friday night’s game against Utah, but he may have been knocked out of the game after just two plays. Matt Fink has replaced Slovis, at least for now, after Slovis headed to the USC locker room early in the first quarter. According to a sideline report on the telecast, Slovis was being treated for a possible head injury.

Utah defensive tackle Leki Fatu came charging at Slovis on a 2nd-and-1 play on the second snap of the game. After Fink got the ball away, Fatu finished off a clean play in the college game (FS1 analyst Brock Huard correctly noted the follow-through to take the quarterback to the ground would be flagged in the NFL). Slovis struggled to get back on his feet as he attempted to get off the ground.

Fink, USC’s third-string quarterback behind Slovis and J.T. Daniels (who was injured and out for the year after the season opener), got right to work to finish off the opening drive. Fink missed on his first throw but then connected on his next three attempts, including a 29-yard pass to Tyler Vaughns for the early lead. Utah cruised down the field on the ensuing possession to tie it up.

This post will be updated with more information on Slovis once it becomes available.

USC officially announces Jack Sears as starting QB vs Arizona State

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As expected, or perhaps feared by some, USC will start third-string quarterback Jack Sears Saturday afternoon when the Trojans take host Arizona State. Sears will make his first career start as he takes over for an injured J.T. Daniels and backup Matt Fink.

USC announced the QB news via Twitter on Friday.

Daniels entered concussion protocol earlier this week. Fink is out with broken ribs. Both quarterbacks were injured in last week’s loss at Utah. With Daniels not medically cleared to return to action, that left USC head coach Clay Helton with no other choice than to go with redshirt freshman Sears. The former four-star dual-threat quarterback does not make his starting debut without potential, as his Rivals profile out of high school would suggest. And whether he is just pumping his newly-appointed starting quarterback with confidence or if he truly is optimistic about what Sears can do, Helton seemed confident in the situation even if it is not the most desirable option at this point in the season.

I’m a big fan of Jack. I always have been,”  Helton said on Sunday. “If he’s given the opportunities, I think he’ll do a great job.”

Well, he’ll get his opportunities. Arizona State’s defense ranks 61st in the nation and has given up their biggest yardage totals on the road this year.

USC hosts Arizona State at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

USC QB J.T. Daniels in concussion protocol, backup Matt Fink has broken ribs, Jack Sears to the rescue?

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USC freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels has been entered into the team’s concussion protocol after getting roughed up on the road against Utah Saturday night. USC’s quarterback depth looks to be even more a concern this week as head coach Clay Helton announced backup quarterback Matt Fink broke three ribs in the same game.

Because of the injuries to the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart, the Trojans will prepare redshirt freshman Jack Sears to be the team’s starter this week.

I’m a big fan of Jack. I always have been,”  Helton said on Sunday. “If he’s given the opportunities, I think he’ll do a great job.”

Daniels has been USC’s starter all season as a true freshman. Because he has already played in seven games for the Trojans this fall, he cannot use the 2018 season as a redshirt season. Players can appear in up to four games without burning a redshirt year under a modified NCAA rule regarding redshirt eligibility. How serious the concussion issue remains to be seen, as they can be difficult to predict.

Sears did not play in 2017 and has yet to get the chance to record any passing stats this season. The former four-star dual-threat quarterback is not guaranteed to start this week, but if Daniels is not medically cleared to return, then it will be up to sears to guide the offense for however long he is needed.

USC hosts Arizona State this Saturday. Tied with Utah in the Pac-12 South, USC loses the tiebreaker for the top spot with the head-to-head loss at Utah, which means USC needs to finish the season ahead of Utah in the division in order to play for the Pac-12 championship.