6-Points: USC 33, Utah 17
After two heart-stopping victories, the Trojans made it look relatively easy tonight, dominating defensively en route to a 16-point victory. "I thought they played with a swagger tonight and played with tremendous emotion," said USC coach Clay Helton about the USC defense. "I think we are growing as a football team." Against the reigning Pac-12 South champions, the Trojans forced five turnovers, three sacks and two fourth down stops.
Second Half Shutout
Utah marched the field late in the first half to make it a seven-point game at the break, but that was the only touchdown the Trojans would give up. "We had a goal in the second half, coming out of the locker room, that we didn't want to allow another point," Helton said. "I thought the defense in the second half rallied and rallied and rallied." Todd Orlando's defense delivered the first statement performance of the season, showing that they are getting comfortable in his scheme, aggressively playing in the opponent's backfield.
Big Time Backers
With Palaie Gaoteote IV out, Kana'i Mauga got the start and "made the most of his opportunity," Helton said. The junior linebacker made 11 tackles, including a sack, and set a physical tone in the run game from the first play on. "There was a lot of talk with our whole defense, saying that we're going to be in a bar fight," Mauga said. "That's basically what we did all game. We took the fight to them." Mauga was only topped in tackles by his linebacker mate Ralen Goforth who racked up 12 and broke up two passes on fourth down.
Meat on the Bone
The offense did enough to get the win, but Helton spoke honestly after the game about the "lost opportunities" that could have put the game away earlier. The head coach believes it should have been a 31-10 game at half if the offense had executed better in the red zone and not turned the ball over. "I don't think I played very well as a whole," said QB Kedon Slovis, who threw for 264 yards and 2 TDs. "We left a lot of points on the board and that's mostly because of my play and not being disciplined enough." The Trojans were held to a season-low 357 total yards.
Parker Lewis Can't Lose
The red zone was an issue once again, but the Trojans were buoyed by the expert field goal kicking of freshman Parker Lewis, who made all four of his attempts. "Would love to have touchdowns over field goals, but we kept adding the points up and our defense was playing great," Helton said. Lewis also boomed seven touchbacks out of eight kickoffs, combining with punter Ben Griffiths, who pinned Utah inside the 20 three times in four punts, to control field position.
The Trojans have hit the halfway point of the regular season in great shape, sitting 3-0 atop the Pac-12 South. On the back of their strongest performance of the season, USC is confident that the best is still yet to come. "We will hit on all cylinders here soon. We're close," Helton said. "Defensively, I thought we took a major step ahead. Offensively, we're doing the things to win, but we haven't reached our full potential yet." The Trojans will play fellow undefeated Colorado next Saturday at the Coliseum. With a win there, USC would have a stranglehold on the South.