There are teams every year in college football that make you stand up and say ‘Wow’. Teams that aren’t necessarily part of the establishment but nonetheless are in the midst of great seasons.
Utah was one of those teams this year in the eyes of many, climbing to as high as the No. 3 ranking in the country based largely on a season-opening, nationally televised victory over Michigan and a 62-20 victory over Oregon.
I know this smacks of ‘after the fact’ but I was never sold on Utah. I thought the Utes’ issues would come to the forefront later in the schedule more than earlier. I felt as though the system rewarded Utah for those two early-season victories because they came against ‘name’ schools, when in reality Oregon isn’t Oregon anymore and neither is Michigan.
I figured a couple of things would happen. One, Utah would be exposed by a big team, a team that could smack the Utes around on the line and/or wear them down. And two, specifically, quarterback Travis Wilson would come undone against a defense that hid its coverages well and, again, dominated the line.
Good evening, USC.
The Trojans did both of those things Saturday night in Los Angeles in upsetting No. 3 Utah, 42-24, at the Coliseum. Say what you want about USC’s recent troubles – and we’ll get to that in moment – this was still the team picked to win the Pac-12 in the preseason and possessed the kind of beef up front to rattle Utah.
USC did such a great job of mixing its coverage that Wilson looked completely out of sorts. Three times he threw an interception. Three times it went to USC freshman Cameron Smith, who took one back for a touchdown.
On the third interception, all of Wilson’s flaws were on display. He locked on one receiver yet never saw Smith lurking underneath the coverage in the zone. That was a shift by USC based on past scouting of Utah, but it was also on Utah to adapt.
Which it didn’t.
It was a tremendous individual performance yet it wasn’t the performance of the game. That would go to the offensive and defensive lines of the Trojans. At the end, even the Fox announcing crew said the same thing – Utah got beat up.
That was never more evident, the level of control of line of scrimmage, than in the second half. On consecutive drives, USC went for 25 plays, 176 yards, took more than 13 minutes off the clock and scored two touchdowns.
And if any team deserved it, it was USC. Picked to win the Pac-12 in the preseason conference poll, the Trojans were forced to part ways with head coach Steve Sarkisian last week when it became quite apparent that his battles with alcohol were preventing him from properly running the program.
It was devastating to the players, to say the least – devastating to watch Sarkisian publicly battle his demons, and devastating to say goodbye. Whether interim coach Clay Helton can provide some stability for a program that has had five head coaches since 2010, including Helton himself twice as an interim, remains to be seen.
Beating the No. 3 team in the country is a pretty good start.