Utah Utes football: Trojans played almost flawlessly after disastrous start
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Matt Barkley knew Rice Eccles was a tough place to play, but he didn't know just how rough Thursday night's start would be.
The 13th-ranked Trojans started the game with two turnovers — both of which led to Utah touchdowns. The first was a low snap that Barkley just snatched of the ground when Utah defensive end Nate Fakafahua wrenched from the quarterback's hands and ran 8 yards for the game's first points. The second was a fumble by the center, which defensive tackle Star Lotulelei recovered, and then quarterback Jon Hays and Kenneth Scott converted into six more points.
In just a few minutes, it looked like the team favored by 14 points was going to get blown out at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"It was kind of a low point and not how we wanted to start the game," said Barkley after USC came back to defeat Utah 38-28. "I think our guys bounced back. It was a great job of just pushing it out of the way, realizing there was nothing we could do about, nothing we could change about it … Our guys did a great job of realizing, there was still a lot of football left to play and we didn't let that take us down."
After the disastrous start, head coach Lane Kiffin said there was not chaos on the sideline.
"I felt really calm," Kiffin said. "And I felt like our team was and our coaches were. I felt we did a lot better job as a staff today handling negative plays than we did last time on the road."
He even praised senior center Khaled Holmes, who was responsible for both fumbles, for not only leading the comeback, but for accepting responsibility for the mistakes after the game.
"I think we have a heck of a man in our locker room who plays center for us," said Kiffin. "He apologized to the team for the penalty and two snap issues. It's pretty cool to see a guy like that, who the rest of the game plays great, own up like that."
After the two miscues, the Trojans offense played almost flawlessly — save a few costly penalties. Barkley completed 23-of-30 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns — one of those, an 83-yard pass play to Marquise Lee, is the longest of his college career. The line also didn't allow a sack the entire game.
Barkley said the fact that USC rebounded so convincingly shows the kind of mettle his men are made of.
'I think it just shows the character of the guys on our team," Barkley said. "Their willingness to fight and not just to say feel sorry for ourselves and not let the game slip out of our hands. It was a hostile environment, no doubt about it. One of the loudest stadiums we've played in, I think, as an offense."
He praised the line for communicating well despite the distraction and noise issues.
And Cottonwood High graduate John Martinez confirmed that Lotulelei is every bit as talented as he looks on television.
"Star is definitely what he seems like on film," said Martinez, a redshirt junior who plays right guard. "There are a lot of things you could say about Star."
He said playing again in Rice-Eccles against some of his former high school teammates was "Very fun." And like his quarterback and coach, he was proud of how the team rebounded — even if he had a few moments of doubt.
"I'm not going to lie, I had some second thoughts," he said smiling. "But once we got a rhythm going, I knew we were going to be pretty good. I definitely thought it was going to be a high competition game, a big man's game."
Barkley said it didn't matter at all to the Trojans that Utah struggled so mightily against Arizona State.
"We knew what Utah is capable of," Barkley said, "especially their defensive front. We weren't taking them lightly at all. We don't compare how this team does against that team. A lot of ranked teams have come in here and lost. I didn't expect that start; I didn't think that was going to happen, but we did expect it to be a tough game."
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