The USC Trojans played right on par for late-night conference games, falling 24-21 in a frustrating, annoying, mind-blowing loss that perfectly captures the highs and lows of this football team.
What went wrong you ask? Well a lot of little things, here are some of the biggest concerns from a top-25 loss on the road.
DIDN'T CLOSE IT OUT
Head coach Steve Sarkisian had an opportunity to win the football game and the play calling was just not there. I'm not one to bash the offense all alone, but this game wreaks of horrendous late-game execution. Two plays to gain two yards, yet the Trojans' came up short on an easy pass from Cody Kessler to Jahleel Pinner, which would've easily won the game, and then Nelson Agholor tried to make something out of nothing and lost concentration with his footing on the sideline.
"We've been in this situation before where we've been conservative so we wanted to be aggressive," Sarkisian told reporters shortly after the game.
That drive was unacceptable.
And once Utah got another chance, everyone in that stadium knew the Utes would march right down the field to win the game. The question was when, and not if, USC could blow a fourth-quarter lead due to the offensive play calling. USC went for the chokehold but couldn't convert in a 3rd-or-4th and short situation.
PASSING GAME WAS ON AND OFF
When Cody Kessler was on the money, USC looked unstoppable.
In the Trojans' two offensive scoring drives, Kessler was a perfect 11-for-11 passing distributing the ball beautifully to Nelson Agholor, JuJu Smith and even Darreus Rogers for big conversions. Outside of those drives, USC put together a lackluster effort.
The Trojans let go of their running game, up until the point where everyone in the MUSS knew what was coming, and the 100-yard rushing game by Buck Allen seemed rather mute. Kessler was efficient, finishing the night 24-of-32 for 264 yards, but the inability to fire the ball deep stifled any real offensive scoring output.
Just a side note: I give Cody Kessler tremendous credit for facing the heat of a strong Utah pass rush, yet throwing perfect bullets all over the football field. This guy is clutch, and he deserved better than tough late-game play calling.
#StruggleIsReal #USC #Problems pic.twitter.com/M1kVR8JGRO— Elisa H. (@EBHernandez_LA) October 26, 2014
BEND BUT DON'T BREAK WASN'T HELPED OUT
Noticing a theme here?
The quiet second and third quarters from the offense placed USC's defense in a dangerous position. Battling the challenges of spreading out the play distribution across the board, USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's unit actually held their own for most of the game. That said, the last drive said it all about the late-game woes.
We knew Utah was prime for a comeback, but the concerning trend was how Devontae Booker finally found his legs in the third quarter and USC couldn't get enough support to deflate the wrecking ball. Booker rushed over 100 yards in each of the past four games and provided a good second-half level of support for Travis Wilson.
But on the final drive of the game, USC did what every college football team does, sit back in coverage and let the team go right down the field. I'm fine with that, but in the red zone you can't allow Wilson to break loose and scramble all the way to the half-yard line. The final play is whatever in my books...it really came down to the final three before that...they tell the whole story.
GOTTA BE SMART OUT THERE
Despite the fact we can't place blame on one individual player, the effort from Darreus Rogers was...let's call it "less than ideal" on the opening series of the game. After losing focus on a catch he can make 99-percent of the time, Rogers' lackluster awareness and complete disregard for the football was sad.
Luckily, Cody Kessler finally got the message and tracked down the defender to make life difficult. But that doesn't matter. The lack of awareness was not something you expect from a USC-coached team. Obviously, that play isn't completely indicative of everyone on the team, but it speaks largely about the lack of preparation and attention to detail that it takes to win big-time college football games week-in and week-out.
TURNOVERS TURN INTO POINTS
In a conference filled with turnover-savvy passers, Cody Kessler threw just his second interception of the season. USC also lost a fumble on the night, yet somehow finishing the game with an even turnover ratio. The only problem, Utah scored 14 points off those turnovers while USC was forced to punt on those possessions.
USC's defense was rock solid in the red zone, stripping the football loose three times -- twice for turnovers (Leonard Williams and Adoree' Jackson) making for some awesome goal line stands. But when Utah forced mistakes, they were able to strike for quick and easy points against an otherwise stingy defense. In a game filled with plenty of "what ifs" and "what could've" been moments, the Trojans can only blame themselves for not sealing the deal in a tight Pac-12 South showdown.