There’s no doubt that the biggest let down in this one was the final score. Friday night’s game in Utah was a heart breaker, and with this much talent, a 1-3 start is tough to swallow. In many ways, however, the Trojans finally gave us the game we’ve been waiting for. We saw a dynamic offense, led by an impressive young quarterback and an army of playmakers. Despite the big miss, there were plenty of hits to talk about.
Hit: Sam Darnold
He looked good from the get-go. Clay Helton told us Sam Darnold’s ability to run was a factor in his decision to make a change at quarterback. All night long, Darnold slipped through the grasp of Utah defenders and found extra yards when it looked like there were none. In the third quarter, when the freshman took it himself and ran 8 yards for a touchdown, he proved that Helton made the right call.
As much as Darnold impressed with his legs, it was ability to throw the ball that deserves the most attention. The new starter showed tremendous poise in the pocket, and was incredibly accurate with his throws downfield. Perhaps his brightest moment came on a key possession late in the 4th quarter. Facing 3rd and 6, with the ever-aggressive Utah defense in his face, Darnold threw a strike to tight-end Tyler Petite for a 22 yard gain and a first down. With all due respect to Max Browne, this is the type of play that’s been missing.
It was a dark and stormy night, and yes, the ball was slippery. But when the Trojans fumbled three times in the first half, you just knew it would come back to haunt them. The worst part was that each of these turnovers halted USC drives that looked sure to find the end zone. It could be argued that in the end, this cost them the game, as it kept Utah close enough to make a comeback.
Hit: USC running game and Justin Davis
Before the season, the combination of a top-ranked offensive line and two explosive running backs was seen as the biggest weapon in the Trojan offense. Friday, we finally saw what they can do. Big holes and long, galloping runs highlighted an unrelenting ground attack. USC utilized both Justin Davis and Ronald Jones, but the night clearly belonged to Davis, who finished with 126 yards and a touchdown.
Late in the game, with Utah’s offense still in their own end, it looked like the Trojan defense had extinguished any thoughts of a comeback. Then a flag came out. The penalty was for pass interference, turning a key third down stop into a fresh set of downs for Utah, and extending a drive that would eventually give them the game.
Penalties have been a big part of the story in each of the Trojans three losses. On Friday, USC was flagged seven times for 49 yards, with two 15-yarders in the 4th quarter. Whether it be a lack of concentration or lack of discipline, it proved costly once again.
Hit: Adoree’ Jackson
USC’s x-factor provided a spark when they needed it most. Utah had just pounced on an early fumble and then proceeded to run right through the Trojans (12 times, actually) en route to the game’s first touchdown. Adoree’ Jackson’s 100-yard return on the ensuing kickoff tied the game at 7. More importantly, it flipped the momentum in a lightning fast moment.
It truly felt like a different game from that point on. And Adoree’ continued to shine on defense, breaking up a pair of key passes and jumping on a Utah fumble. When he finally touched the ball on offense, sprinting for an 11 yard run, you had to ask - what took so long?
Miss: USC Defense
They got pushed around a little on that first drive of the game, and it had the look of long night. But then, as the rain continued to come down in sheets over Rice-Eccles Stadium, USC started to hit people. In the second quarter, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and Uchenna Nwosu each had timely sacks of Utah quarterback Troy Williams. It was a toughness we all know is there, but missing at times - like the entire game against Alabama, most of the game against Stanford...and in the 4th quarter against Utah.
On that now infamous game-winning drive, USC had two golden chances to stop the Utes on 4th down. Both times Utah ran the ball up the gut, and both times the Trojans were knocked backwards. On a night SC’s offense found a way to make a number of big plays, they needed just one from their defense.
Have any hits or misses of your own? Leave them here with your comments.