As has become the trend in 2017, USC’s performance on Saturday wasn’t pretty for much of the contest, but the Trojans certainly showed tremendous heart, making all of the big plays when they counted most, and in the end they earned a dramatic 28-27 comeback victory over Utah in a crucial Pac-12 South battle.
Things looked bleak for USC from the get-go, with quarterback Sam Darnold fumbling the ball away on two of the Trojans’ first three offensive possessions of the day, with Utah safety Marquis Blair corralling the second one in and taking it back 18 yards for a touchdown to give the Utes a quick 7-0 lead.
The Trojans would answer in a hurry to tie the game up, however, with Darnold hitting Tyler Petite down the middle of the field for a 52-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Utah would use some trickery to take the lead in the second quarter, with wide receiver Demari Simpkins taking a handoff and throwing back to quarterback Troy Williams, who darted into the end zone for an easy touchdown.
Darnold would be credited with his third fumble a little later when his backwards pass to Ronald Jones II fell to the turf, with Utah’s Nick Heninger making the recovery.
The Utes would capitalize on that error, with Williams leading a nine-play, 79-yard drive that he capped off with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Simpkins, and Utah took a surprising 21-7 lead into the break.
But an energized and clearly motivated Trojans team would come out in the second half, making a big statement on their first offensive series of the third quarter. Darnold led a beautiful 16-play, 98-yard drive that included a key fourth-down conversion to Vaughns, before the redshirt-sophomore passer hit Petite for a 17-yard touchdown to cut Utah’s lead to seven.
The Trojans would score on their next two offensive series’ as well, first with Josh Falo pulling down a one-yard touchdown pass from Darnold to tie the game up at 21-21, and then with Ronald Jones II scoring on an 11-yard run to give USC a 28-21 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the game.
Utah wasn’t ready to lay down though, and on their last offensive series of the day they drove 75 yards on 11 plays, with Williams scoring on a one-yard plunge with less than a minute remaining in the contest. Down by one point, Utah elected to go for a two-point conversion attempt. On the conversion attempt, Williams dropped rolled out and tried to run it in outside, but he was tripped by Ajene Harris before he could reach the goal line.
On the night, USC outgained Utah in total yardage 532 – 436.
Darnold finished the game 27-of-50 passing for 358 yards and three touchdowns. Deontay Burnett paces the Trojans with eight catches for 99 yards.
Thanks to a strong second-half effort, Jones led USC with 111 yards on the ground on 17 carries.
Cameron Smith led USC with 16 tackles, and he also had an interception. Christian Rector had two sacks.
USC improves to 6-1 (4-1 in the Pac-12). Utah, meanwhile, falls to 4-2 (1-2 Pac-12).
USC will next face Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana on Saturday.