Primetime — it’s the essence of what the University of Utah football team has been asking for on a number of occasions, for a number of years. Given the opportunity to show what the team is capable of doing on college football’s biggest stage on Saturday night against USC on the road, the Utes seemed ready to embrace that spotlight.
Utah was down 21-28 with less than five minutes to play. Quarterback Troy Williams heralded a 75-yard drive, and he capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left. Overtime was seemingly inevitable, but head coach Kyle Whittingham elected to go for the 2-point conversion to win the game. This time, Williams wasn’t able to punch the ball in, and the Utes fell short of an upset as the Trojans walked away with the 27-28 win.
Utah held a 21-7 lead over USC at halftime, and it looked like it was about to run the home team out of its own stadium. That wasn’t the case though as Utah struggled to find the endzone for much of the second half. Trojan quarterback Sam Darnold bounced back from a few early turnovers as he and his offense were clicking. The Trojans eventually scored three touchdowns, one at the start of the second half and a pair in the fourth quarter, to avoid the upset.
Williams got the start in place of Tyler Huntley who is still sidelined with an injury, and he was 16-of-27 for 262 passing yards. Zack Moss rushed for 141 yards on 20 carries. Williams connected with eight receivers in the game, and Demari Simpkins led the bunch with four catches for 58 yards. Utah’s defense came away with three turnovers, one of which was a fumble returned for a touchdown in the first quarter.
The Trojans had the ball to start the game, and they looked poised to score on their opening drive. Darnold fumbled less than two minutes into the action, and Bradlee Anae recovered the ball at Utah’s 30-yard line, but Utah punted the ball after a quick three-and-out.
After USC had another go, Utah’s offense took over once more. After a couple of rushes from Moss, Williams connected with Raelon Singleton for 53 yards, and it set the Utes up on USC’s 33-yard line.
Williams was looking to hit Darren Carrington II in the endzone, and while Carrington almost hailed in a diving catch, USC was called for pass interference, so Utah advanced 15 yards. However, the Utes wouldn’t score as Williams threw an interception.
USC was hoping to make Utah pay for that turnover, but then Darnold committed his second fumble. Marquise Blair recovered it and ran it back for an 18-yard touchdown to give Utah a 7-0 lead. But Darnold didn’t let a couple of fumbles get to his head, and on the next USC drive he threw a 52-yard touchdown.
Williams, after almost throwing another pick, found Siaosi Wilson for a 44-yard gain to get the Utes in the red zone. USC’s defense held stiff, and Matt Gay’s field goal attempt from 33 yards was no good with 10 seconds left in the first.
Moss put the Utes on his back early in the second quarter when he rushed for 31, 15 and 4 yards to get to USC’s 5-yard line. Simpkins and Williams reversed roles as Simpkins threw the ball to Williams to give Utah its second touchdown of the night and a 14-7 lead.
While the Trojans looked to respond with a touchdown of their own, they fumbled the ball for the third time.
An offsides call gave Utah a first down when the Utes, otherwise, would have punted the ball, and a defensive pass interference advanced Utah further down the field. Williams soon found Simpkins for a 32-yard touchdown, and it gave Utah a 21-7 advantage, a lead that held well into the third quarter.
USC got off on the right foot following halftime as Darnold led the Trojan offense 54 yards down the field and capped off their opening second half drive with a 17-yard touchdown. No other scoring action happened in the third quarter, but USC was priming itself to tie the game near the start of the fourth, and it did just that. Darnold commanded an 88-yard drive where he found Josh Falo for a 1-yard touchdown to tie the game at 21. Darnold ended up finishing the game with 358 yards on 27-of-50 passing.
USC’s final touchdown of the game came at the 4:12 mark when Ronald Jones II ran in an 11-yard touchdown.
The Utes have now dropped back-to-back games, and they’ll be at home next week when they take on ASU on Oct. 21 at 1:30 p.m.