October 2, 2023

Trojans eliminated from Playoff contention after second loss to Utes

USC Trojans Football

USC Coach Lincoln Riley glances at the scoreboard after a failed third down attempt in the second quarter against Utah Friday December 2, 2022 at Allegiant Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — It’s no mystery that USC controlled its’own destiny to postseason glory.

All the Trojans had to do was avenge their only loss of the season to the reigning Pac-12 Champs Friday night. However, that was easier said than done, because Utah throttled USC 47-24 in front of a crowd of 61,195 at Allegiant Stadium.

Not only did the Utes spoil the Trojans Pac-12 Title hopes, but they pretty much extended the league’s Playoffs drought for a seventh-straight season.

Coach Lincoln Riley received all of the attention throughout the week over Kyle Whittingham. And rightfully so. After all, he took over a 4-8 team and had them 11-1 heading into the matchup. Several analysts were even penciling the Trojans in the Playoffs before they even took the field.

So it was obvious the Utes felt disrespected by the lack of attention on the national scale. Regardless of the matter, USC got off to a fast start and scored on their first three drives of the game, including two touchdowns.

It’s mind-boggling that the Trojans led 17-3 midway through the second quarter, but collapsed from that point on. An abysmal rushing attack forced quarterback Caleb Williams to run the ball more than Riley would’ve liked and it backfired. Williams pulled his hamstring on a long run and Riley quickly noticed he wasn’t the same player for the remainder of the contest.

“I definitely thought about taking him out, but he wouldn’t let me, and he didn’t let me,” Riley said. “He wouldn’t even let me take him out at the end.”

That’s because Williams is a competitor, and of course he wanted to keep his Heisman hopes alive. Still, with a gimpy Williams and no running threat in the backfield, USC’s offense became one-dimensional.

And that allowed Utah (10-3) to storm back with 14 unanswered points to tie he game at halftime. At that point it was crystal clear to Riley that the momentum of the game had shifted to the Utes’ side and they never looked back.

Whittingham obviously made adjustments and took it to the Trojans in the second half. USC couldn’t do nothing to stop it either. Utah scored 30 points over the final two quarters, including 20 unanswered in the fourth. USC’S defense took bad tackling angles which resulted in big gains. The unit couldn’t get off the field to compliment the offense. And that really frustrated Riley that his defenders couldn’t bring down Utah’s ball carriers.

“At the end of the game, we got way too focused, and we panicked a little bit,” he said. “Got way too focused on trying to strip the ball and make big plays, as opposed to just getting them to the ground.”

Although Williams couldn’t move like he wanted, he still put up decent numbers in losing fashion. The signal-caller completed 28 of his 41 passes for 363 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Not to mention he was picked off in the red zone, which turned out to be very costly. Williams didn’t receive much help from his supporting cast either.

“Obviously mistakes all across the board, our play really didn’t resemble the way we played the majority of the year,” the 39-year old coach said. “Disappointed with some the missed opportunities out there.”

Despite the upset, USC (11-2) should still receive a nice bowl bid. Which is light years ahead of where the program was a year ago. Riley will have to pick up the pieces and go back to the drawing board though.

So at the end of the day the Trojans really don’t have to hang their heads, and should be able to redeem themselves in their bowl game in a few weeks.