Utah snuffs out USC rally

LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – It has been a while since the USC Trojans lost on the last play of a college football play. That defeat came at the hands of Arizona State from a last-ditch pass back in 2014. The last time that the Trojans got beat on a field was an even longer period of time. How about 2010? 

Well, both of those occurrences were moved aside by Utah in the Utes’ 34-32 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Oct. 21. After seeing USC take a momentary lead late in the ballgame and watching Caleb Williams call his own number to run 11 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, Utah calmly responded and drove the length of the field to kick the game-winning field goal on the last play of the game. 

Utah linebacker Lander Barton (20) puts the squeeze on USC wide receiver Mario Williams (4) during a Pac-12 Conference football game that was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Oct. 21, 2023. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

To be more precise, Cole Becker kicked a 38-yard field goal with no time remaining on the clock to help the Utes deal the Trojans their second loss of the season. Coming off a road defeat to Notre Dame, USC has lost two games in a row. The defeat also snaps USC’s 11-game home winning streak. 

“This is the first time I’ve come into this room not with a win, so definitely not a feeling that I want to get used to,” USC head coach Lincoln Riley said after the game. “As gut-wrenching a defeat as I can remember in my career. Hate it for the guys in there. We fought our tails off. We fought so hard, and what a great surge there in the fourth quarter to take the lead. One play away. Give credit to Utah. We’ve had three great games with them. Great competitors. It was a heck of a ballgame. Wish we would have played a little bit cleaner, though.”

The loss by the Trojans figures to be an extremely tough one to absorb. In several ways. First, there is the matter of contending for the College Football Playoff. With two defeats against two of the best teams in the country, that window may be officially closed. If it’s not shut already, it’s closing fast. 

Contending for the Pac-12 Conference title will come down to whether or not the Trojans are able to knock off Oregon, Washington, and UCLA. Right now, USC is in a good position to make it back to the conference championship game. With big-time games looming at home against the Huskies (Nov. 4) and on the road against the Ducks, losing is not an option for the Trojans. 

For Riley, the objective that he deals with is trying to go out and get a win for his team, week by week. He’s not overly concerned about the other stuff, he said. 

“We’re in the middle of the season, that’s a dream world. You’re fighting your ass off every single week,” Riley said. “We don’t come in every single week talking about winning a national championship, going to playoffs and I don’t know where that narrative starts. You come in every single week, try and fight your tail off to go play well and win a ballgame. It’s a strain every week to do it. And it’s a fight every week to do it. We’ve won a hell of a lot more here than we’ve lost. Are we satisfied at all sitting here at 6-2? Of course, we’re not.”

The third angle to this defeat is the Trojans appeared to shake off the demons of last year’s conference title game loss to Utah. The Utes won handily in that contest, and after taking a 28-14 lead in the third quarter, looked like they would go for a repeat of the win against the Trojans in last season’s conference championship matchup. 

USC wide receiver Zachariah Branch (1) walks into the endzone in the second quarter of a Pac-12 Conference football game played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Oct. 21, 2023. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

A 44-yard field goal by Denis Lynch and a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown by Calen Bullock changed things in a hurry. The Trojans were back in business. What appeared to be a precursor to a blowout loss turned into a drama-tense final quarter. With USC’s defense turning up is play a couple of notches in the final period, the Trojans positioned themselves to win this ballgame. 

Trailing late in the game, 31-26, the Trojans’ defense got a stop and forced Utah to punt the ball away. Return specialist Zachariah Branch took that punt and nearly returned it for the go-ahead score. That was left up to Williams, who passed for 256 yards and scrambled for an additional 27 on the ground. 

In shotgun formation, Williams made a mad dash into the endzone to give the Trojans a 32-31 lead. The two-point conversion failed, thus giving Utah an opportunity to win the game in regulation. 

“We had a 15-yard penalty with all the momentum in the world, and then we gave up the big quarterback scramble on the play before the field goal,” Riley remarked. ”I thought we ran great calls. I thought we had a ton of momentum.”

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