A look at USC’s ‘disappointing’ loss

LAS VEGAS (News4usonline) – What happened to the USC Trojans and their dream season? The Utah Utes is what happened. The Trojans have had a magical season in Lincoln Riley’s first year as the head coach of the storied football program. 

Before the Trojans took on the Utes in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game, the team had far exceeded expectations for the season. 

USC quarterback Caleb Williams (13) hands the ball off to running back Austin Jones (6) against the Utah Utes in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Allegiant Stadium on Dec. 2, 2022. Photo By Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

USC was ranked No. 4 in the country. A win against Utah, a team that beat them earlier in the regular season, and the Trojans would find themselves playing in the College Football Playoff semifinals with an opportunity to play for the national championship. 

Those aspirations hit a serious speed bump in the form of the Utes, whose physicality dominated the Trojans from midway of the second quarter to the time the final seconds ticked down to zero. 

Behind a dominant rushing attack that went for 223 yards on the ground and a ferocious pass rush that took down USC quarterback Caleb Williams seven times in sacks, Utah rolled to a 44-27 win at Allegiant Stadium. 

Obviously, disappointing night for us,” Riley said after the game. “You come as far as this team has come and this program has come in the last 12 months, you get that close to winning a championship, possibly much more. Obviously do not get it done, it’s a tough pill to swallow. When you get to the top like this, these games that have so much riding on them, it takes so much to get here, especially where we started from. 

“To get here and not get it done, not play our best, very, very disappointed,” Riley added. “ Very disappointed locker room. No other way to say it. I want to give Utah a lot of credit. They battled their way to get back into this game. Did a tremendous job. They played better than us today.”

What Utah did better than USC was respond in the time of crisis. The Trojans jumped all over the Utes, building a 17-3 in the second quarter and looking to dominate the game the rest of the way. But Utah had other ideas. 

The turning point in the contest turned out to be when Riley decided to go for a first down on fourth-and-eight backed up on their side of the 50-yard line. Riley and the Trojans, obviously trying to put the hammer down on the Utes early in the game, gambled and lost. Utah’s defense stiffened and held. 

From there, Utah took over the game. Utah scored 14 points in the second quarter to tie the game at halftime. After going up by a score in the third quarter, Utah then blitzed the Trojans with a 23-7 fourth quarter to turn a close game into a blowout.  

Missed opportunities for the USC Trojans against the Utah Utes during the Pac-12 Championship Game played at Allegiant Stadium on Dec. 2, 2022. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, during his postgame press conference, talked about his team blanketing out all of the outside distractions around the game in order to win the ballgame.  

“There was a lot of noise,” Whittingham said. “We had a team meeting and had a vote if we should even show up for kickoff because they were already going to the Playoffs and had the Heisman and this and that (smiling). It’s not their fault. It’s people that get ahead of themselves in the media. We had a chip on our shoulder.” 

Whittingham continued, “We didn’t really take a vote for that. We definitely got the message loud and clear that a lot of people were underestimating us, not giving us much of a chance in this game. That’s the wrong group of players to do that to. We’ve historically been a chip-on-our-shoulder type of program that’s getting harder and harder to do the more success you have. That was in our DNA from way back when, feeling a little bit disrespected and people weren’t giving us our due.”  

Well, the Trojans and everybody else have no other choice but to give Utah their due now. The win against USC moves Utah to No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings. The loss forces the Trojans to slide down from the No. 4 position to No. 10.

Instead of playing for a spot in the national championship game, USC will now travel to Texas to play in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Jan. 2. Utah will entertain No. 11 Penn State in the Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 2. 

USC has ridden their season’s success on the feet and the right arm of quarterback Caleb Williams, considered a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, awarded annually to the best player in college football. 

USC quarterback Caleb Williams in pregame drills. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

On this day, Williams was still the best player on the football field. He just wasn’t able to turn on his magic as he has done in previous games this season. That’s because Williams had injured a hamstring while making a big run in the second quarter. After that play, the mobility of Williams was severely limited, thus making it easier for the USC quarterback to become an open target for Utah’s pass rushers. 

Williams, who still managed to throw for 363 yards and three touchdowns, talked about what it was like playing with his injury for most of the game. 

“You ever have an old rubber band? Yeah, kind of felt like that,” Williams said. “The rest of the game I felt it, but I had something that I always go by — not always go by, but something that I have watched and admired, a person that I admire, Kobe. He always said the game is bigger than what you’re feeling. I was in my head encouraging myself that the game is bigger than what I was feeling. I also had a group of guys that was looking at me to go out there and lead ’em to victory. That didn’t end upped what happened, but that’s what was going on.”

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