Despite the big name, USC under Steve Sarkisian still have a way to go before becoming a force again in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, Utah keep proving that this season they’re making noise in the conference for the first time since joining, beating a ranked team for the second time before they head into a very difficult finish.
Utah came away with a 24-21 win in a game that was busy for the officials with plenty of overturned calls, replays and reviews. The most important play came in the final seconds, after Travis Wilson leaping into the end zone wasn’t called for a touchdown. With eight seconds remaining, Wilson threw a one yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay and put Utah on top after trailing since the second quarter, improving to 6-1.
The game started out weirdly enough. A Cody Kessler pass was thought to be incomplete by everyone, but it turned out to be a lateral, so Davion Orphey picked up the ball and ran it 47 yards for a fumble return touchdown, setting the tone for a mistake-filled game, with plenty of defense and special teams moments taking center stage. USC took a 14-10 lead with a 100-yard kickoff return by Adoree Jackson, which eventually wasn’t enough to hold on to the win.
USC stumble for the third time this season (Boston College, Arizona State, Utah) and are now tied with UCLA due to two conference losses. The next two games shouldn’t be too tough (Washington State and California), but the finish comes against UCLA and Notre Dame, two rivalry games against two teams that might be better than them.
For Utah, now 6-1 overall and 3-1 in conference play (lost by one point to Washington State of all teams), the remaining schedule is tough business. Arizona State on the road for the lead in the division, Oregon at home, Stanford on the road, Arizona at home and a comfortable finish against Colorado. For a team that’s never won more than four conference games since joining the Pac-12 (going only 2-7 last year), this season is a chance to make a statement, and not just about getting back into a bowl game after two years of finishing 5-7.
Both teams were ranked in the top 20 going into the game, but USC will probably fall out of it for the second time this season while Utah might find themselves moving up at least three or four spots thanks to a win over a ranked team that came in a close game. We’ve seen from them this season, on more than one occasion, that home or away, this team is tough as nails and difficult to get rid of. Now it’s time to see if that toughness and resiliency is enough to make it through their next four games with at least two wins.