Just like last year, the beginning of Pac-12 play has been extremely difficult for the Utah Utes. That much was evident after they lost to USC 38-28 Thursday night.
Utes buckle in the fourth: The Utes may have gained early momentum due to Trojan turnovers. But once it gave up as many touchdowns (two) as minutes to start the game, a more disciplined USC squad controlled the game and showed the Utes — again — that life in this BCS conference isn't easy. That was assured in the fourth quarter when Heisman candidate quarterback Matt Barkley connected with star receiver Marqise Lee (12 receptions, 192 yards) for an 83-yard touchdown. The score ended a 24-21 gridlock that had existed since several minutes remained in the first half. Utah quarterback Jon Hays removed all doubt the next series when he threw a pick that was returned 38 yards to paydirt. Despite gaining 188 total yards in the first half, the Utes managed just 116 after intermission. More than half of that came when the game had essentially been decided.
No answer for Barkley (or the Pac-12): Their defense may have allowed just 21.2 points and 218 passing yards per game entering Thursday's primetime contest. But Barkley must not have known, because given his numbers (23-30, 303 yards three touchdowns), he didn't seem to care. Robert Woods (six receptions, 69 yards) and Lee in particular truly had their way with the Utah defensive backfield. The story was similar 12 days earlier when Arizona State signal-caller Travis Kelly (19-26, 326 yards, three touchdowns) combined with just three receivers for a combined 24 receptions. Are the Utes' defensive backs truly this inept against Pac-12 aerial attacks?
Beneficial start goes awry: Utah certainly was privileged to see the athlete Nate Fakahafua do nothing less than steal the pigskin from Barkley for a touchdown seconds into the contest. It only got better moments later when Star Lotulelei recovered a fumble at the Trojan 13-yard line, setting up Hays for a six-point toss. The Utes just couldn't make better use of the yards they gained the rest of the night.
Rhett Wilkinson attends Utah State University and is the co-founder of Aggie BluePrint, USU's first student magazine. He's previously been an intern for the Deseret News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @wilklogan