PK: Utah’s Substance Bests USC Pageantry Once Again

Oct 21, 2023, 10:49 PM | Updated: Oct 23, 2023, 1:21 pm

LOS ANGELES, CA – In terms of the perpetual ballyhooed hype, not much has changed during Lincoln Riley’s tenure as USC’s football coach.

Forecasts going into both seasons had the Trojans making serious runs at the four-team national playoff. Appearances in the Rose Bowl were part of the equation only if the game semifinal playoff, as it does this season.

Forget about playing in the Granddaddy again. As it looks now, pencil in a trip to Las Vegas – only this time it may be for a bowl game rather than the Pac-12 championship in six weeks.

RELATED: No. 14 Utah Football Downs No. 18 USC On Last Second Field Goal

Meanwhile, up in the land of towering mountains, Utah continues to go about its workmanlike business. Leave the flash and glitter down in Tinsel Town.

Style over substance won again, for the fourth consecutive time between these two teams, as Utah beat USC 34-32 on Saturday night on a field goal in the last second in the Coliseum. The Utes (6-1, 3-1) haven’t lost to the Pac-12’s most decorated program since the aborted 2020 season, which Kyle Whittingham refuses to count (justifiably so, we might add.)

“To beat a program that has as much talent as they do, I can’t say enough about our kids,” said Whittingham.

Given the circumstances, No. 4 might rank ahead of last season’s two wins over USC. Granted, the stakes weren’t as they were with the Rose Bowl on the line in the Pac-12 championship game last December and few will ever forget the last-second thrilling win by one point in the regular season.

But the Utes had star quarterback Cam Rising and a future NFL first-round pick in Dalton Kincaid in both of those games. This year’s version of the Utes features a lightly recruited quarterback (Bryson Barnes), a safety taking turns at running back (Sione Vaki), and an assortment of tight ends subbing for the injured Brant Kuithe and Thomas Yassmin.

RELATED: Utah’s Cam Rising, Brant Kuithe, Lander Barton All Out For Season

Not that it matters, anyway. As Whittingham has repeated countless times, nobody cares about your injuries (justifiably so, we might add.)

The steady-as-he-goes Barnes might typify Utah’s meat-and-potatoes approach to the game. He simply takes what’s available, be it the open receiver or the scramble up the middle for a first down – as he did on a third-and-long that led to a new set of downs and ended with the Utes going up 14 points with 3:28 left in the third quarter.

Even his ill-fated interception that was returned for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, which breathed badly needed life into a stagnant USC, didn’t faze the kid from a small town in southern Utah. Taking over deep in Utah territory, Barnes hit Vaki for a 36-yard gain to curtail USC’s burgeoning momentum.

On the ensuing set of downs, Barnes bulldozed his way to a first down on a third-and-5. The Utes ultimately settled for a field goal, but the drive did provide desperately needed points.

And then, with the game on the line in the final possession, Barnes got the Utes into position for Cole Becker to kick a 38-yard field goal as time expired. For the second time in three games against USC, the team with the ball last won.

“Bryson is going be Bryson,” said running back Ja’Quinden Jackson. “He’s a competitor and he’s smart. We definitely believe in him.”

For all the excitement, let’s not overlook the staple of Utah’s program. In most games, every year, the defense is a collective Mr. Reliable, relieving pressure on the offense to score often.

Seven games into the season, Whittingham announced after the game that Rising and Kuithe are done for the season. Linebacker Landon Barton is also done with an injury.

Perhaps more than ever, or at least since Pete Carroll hightailed out of town for the NFL after the 2009 season, USC’s expectations were sky high. The combination of all-everything quarterback Caleb Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and the offensive mastermind back in his second year as USC’s coach were the primary reasons the Trojans began the season ranked sixth in the Associated Press poll.

In a repeat of last season, when USC started 6-0 and was ranked as high as seventh, all the acclaim was built on a shaky foundation. The Trojans are decent and probably worthy of the back end of the top 25, but they don’t belong anywhere near the best programs in the game.

Here they are, after losing at Notre Dame last week, again with no hope of making the playoff. With a little luck, maybe USC can win a bowl game this year, something that didn’t happen last season.

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PK: Utah’s Substance Bests USC Pageantry Once Again