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USC Positional Grades: Utah Utes

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The Trojans strong second half helped them triumph 28-27, but how did each position grade out?

Utah v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The USC Trojans went into half down 21-7 to the Utah Utes, with Utah set to receive the ball to start the second half. It was gut check time, and the Trojans responded with one of their best halfs of the season. When combining both halfs, their grades weren’t necessarily great nor bad. Check them out here:

Quarterback: B

Well it looked like Sam Darnold was gonna have another disappointing performance after the first half. He lost two fumbles early on, resulting in seven points for Utah, and should have thrown an early INT had the Utes cornerback not let the ball go straight through his hands. We all heard the reports that Darnold had been losing confidence all year, and you could see him visibly crushed after his fumble ended in a Utah touchdown. But, credit to Darnold, he bounced back. Darnold led a furious second half comeback, making plays we hadn’t seen since the Rose Bowl game. He ended up throwing for over 350 yards and three touchdowns, something we had hoped to see from him all year. Hopefully this is a performance he can build off of for the rest of the season.

Runningbacks: A-

Ronald Jones is an extremely explosive back. Give that man any type of hole or gap on the line, and he bursts through it. He showed that all Saturday night, rushing for 111 yards on 17 carries including the game winning touchdown. He may not be elite, but he’s a damn good back and gives his all, even sacrificing his body as he flipped over into the endzone late fourth quarter. Credit to Vavae Malepeai for stepping up when put in, he gained 42 yards on only four carries. Velus Jones had a nice run on a jet sweep that resulted in a first down, something I hope Tee Martin uses more in the future.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A

It seems to only be getting harder and harder each week to find flaws in the performance of the wide receivers and tight ends. From the first drive, it was apparent they came to play with a great leaping catch from Michael Pittman. Tyler Vaughns has now emerged as the most explosive playmaker in this unit, as he made catches all night, including a couple impressive sideline grabs. Deontay Burnett, the most reliable receiver in this group, had another great game, especially on quick slants. Burnett and Vaughns had a combined 14 catches for 164 receiving yards. Tight ends became a huge factor, as Petite and Falo both had touchdowns and combined for over 100 receiving yards.

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line had an impressive push all night, especially considering the two defensive studs Utah had in the trenches. While the first half rushing stats did not show it, they created holes for Ronald Jones and company. The Trojans run game finally broke free in the second half, and it was apparent as running backs could go five or six yards before being touched. Sam Darnold was not sacked on the night although a big part of that can be contributed to his ability to escape pressure.

Defensive Line: B+

The Trojans defensive front finished with four sacks on the night, with two big ones coming from Christian Rector. It was apparent Troy Williams felt the pressure and their presence really threw Utah out of rhythm offensively for majority of the night. While they gave up over 150+ yards rushing, their push was good and they limited them to only 4.1 ypc.

Linebackers: A-

Cameron Smith is a monster. His incredible leaping interception proved it yet again on Saturday. He also finished with 16 tackles and a tackle for loss. One stat not highlighted is his lack of missed tackles. Early on in the season the Trojans defense had tackling issues, however Smith’s leadership seems to have fixed the problem. Once he gets his hands on you, you’re going down. Uchenna Nwosu had a quiet night tackling wise (3), but finished with three key quarterback hurries. This unit continues to be the heartbeat on defense, as Smith and Nwosu keep trading off great performances each week.

Secondary: B

The Trojans secondary did a solid job in man coverage all night. Jack Jones is someone who should not be thrown to, as he had two passes deflected and seven tackles in the game. Iman Marshall was picked on at times during the first half, but his second half performance was much better. One frustrating thing was the amount of pass interference penalties. USC on the night surrendered a little less than 270 passing yards. Something that really impressed me was third down coverage (Utah went 4 of 14). The Trojans coverage was lights out on third down all night, finding ways to get off the field.