Utah Utes football: Utes loses to USC 23-14 in first Pac-12 game
Tom Smart, Deseret News
LOS ANGELES — Utah came up short in the inaugural Pac-12 football game.
A 41-yard field goal attempt by Utah's Coleman Petersen was blocked by by USC's Matt Kalil and returned for a touchdown by Torin Harris as time expired — capping a closing sequence so wild that the final score wasn't officially resolved until almost two hours after the horn. Officials initially waved off the game-ending score because of an unsportsmanlike penalty, but Pac-12 officials opted to reverse the decision after reviewing it.
It wasn't the first change down the stretch. The spotting of the ball on a fourth-down pass play from Jordan Wynn to DeVonte Christopher on Utah's final drive changed a loss-on-downs into a first down in the final minute inside the USC 40.
A pass interference call on a throw to Dres Anderson moved the ball to the Trojan 24 with just 11 seconds to go.
Then came the kick, which could have knotted things up at 17-17 and forced overtime.
It didn't happen.
"In the end, they just came through and we didn't," said cornerback Conroy Black.
Despite the tough outcome, no one was taking the close loss as a moral victory.
"No. We want the 'W.' But it is what it is," said linebacker Chaz Walker. "You can't change what we got now."
The Utes, though, had opportunities. They came up empty, though, on their last five drives.
"We put ourselves in position to win. They made a great play," Walker said. "We did what we could. They just outplayed us on the last play."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was pleased with the effort, but disappointed with the setback.
"We never had a situation where we felt overmatched or overwhelmed in any way shape or form," Whittingham said. "They're a good football team. Give them credit. That's a talented football team from the top of their roster to the bottom. They gave as much talented as anybody in the country."
Trailing 17-7 midway through the third quarter, Utah closed the gap after linebacker Brian Blechen forced USC's Xavier Grimble to fumble near midfield. Balck scooped it up to give the Utes possession.
A 51-yard run by Reggie Dunn followed before John White plowed in for a 1-yard touchdown run to close the gap and set up the dramatic finish.
"It a close one. We played our hearts out. Things happen," Blechen said. "There's not much I can say. They played a good game."
As they walked off the field, Utah's offense and defense noted shortcomings.
"It's frustrating losing like that. Bottom line is we've got to make more big plays on offense," said Wynn, who completed 23-of-46 passes for 238 yards. "I've got to complete more passes, I guess. The defense holds them to 17 we should be winning the game."
Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, though, saw things differently.
"If we want to win these games we've got to do better on defense and that's on me," he said. "But these players played their butts off and I'm proud of them."
The Utes, he continued, simply gave up too may plays.
"It's the hardest loss in my life. I grew up a UCLA fan. All I thought about was beating USC," Anderson said. "That's all I wanted to do. We had it. It was right there in our hands."
USC coach Lane Kiffin gave the Utes credit for playing extremely hard and coming to play.
"Fortunately we closed it out," he said.
Utah faces another big road challenge. The Utes visit rival BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday.
"We've got to get ready for next week. The season goes on," Whittingham said. "It's a challenge every single week. So we've got to regroup quickly and make sure we have a great week of preparation for our next game.
Things started off well for the Utes. They won the initial pregame coin toss in Pac-12 history. Several other firsts followed — some good, some bad.
Karl Williams made the first tackle, the Utah defense forced the first loss on downs and cornerback Ryan Lacy registered the first interception.
On the negative side for Utah, USC put the first points on the board and recovered the first fumble. The combination led to an early 10-0 advantage for the Trojans.
USC kicker Andre Heidari got things started with a 47-yard field goal to cap a 13-play scoring drive with 4:41 to go in the opening quarter.
Less than a minute later, free safety T.J. McDonald recovered a fumble by White on the Utah 20 to set up the first touchdown in a Pac-12 game. The historic score came on a 6-yard run by Marc Tyler, four plays into the drive. Heidari added the PAT to give USC a double-digit lead.
It stayed that way until late in the half.
That when the Utes capitalized on a fumble recovery by Boo Andersen and marched 84 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown. A 30-yard completion from Wynn to Christopher opened a drive that culminated with a 10-yard scoring strike between the duo. Coleman Petersen followed with the extra point to make it 10-7 with just 34 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
USC led most statistical categories at the break. The Trojans had more yards (239-152), first downs (13-10) and a time-of-possession edge of more than 4½ minutes.
All of the margins grew in the second half. However, the only one that mattered — the score — stayed the same, despite the dramatic finish.
"It was a tough loss, obviously. I'm extremely proud of the way our guys hung in there and fought and battled every step of the way," Whittingham said. "Just no quit in those guys whatsoever, a tough group of guys. We did have our chances."
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