Final Thoughts: USC Football Suffers First Loss of 2022 Season
Add One to a Different Column
USC suffered its first loss of the Lincoln Riley era and the 2022 season at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday. The Trojans and Utes traded scoring drives for the entire game, ultimately ending in a 43-42 heart-breaking loss for USC. Utah quarterback Cam Rising scored the game's final points on 2-pt conversion with just 48 seconds left to go.
"Tough, tough way to take a loss," head coach Lincoln Riley said following the game. "I thought our guys really battled tonight. We didn't play as clean on all three sides as we wanted to. [When] it came down to it, they made one more play than us or we made one more mistake, however you want to look at it. But you can't question the fight or the resolve of this football team. We had to overcome a lot tonight and we got damn close to doing it."
Quarterback Caleb Williams had his best outing yet as a Trojan Saturday. He threw for season highs of 381 yards and five touchdowns. Williams, the ultimate competitor, was clearly gutted by the loss. He exited the field with his helmet covering his eyes and fought through tears at times during USC's postgame press conference. His simple statement following the game best explained his emotions, "I hate losing."
"There is a lot of fight in this team and we put in a lot of work for so long," Williams said. "[This loss] is not the end all, be all of this season and this team."
Wide receiver Jordan Addison and inside linebacker Eric Gentry both exited Saturday's game due to injury and were evaluated in the Trojans' locker room. Addison returned to the sideline with crutches, while Gentry wore a boot on his left foot. The long-term status for both Trojans is unknown at the moment.
"They couldn't finish the game," Riley said. "So we'll see. Probably fortunate we've got a bye week ahead of us."
Leading No Matter the Circumstance
Despite his injury, Gentry was determined to continue to contribute in any way he could. The sophomore emerged from USC's medical tent mid-evaluation and somehow hobbled his way to midfield to motivate his teammates, who were gearing up for an important series in the red zone.
— no context college football (@nocontextcfb) October 16, 2022
Gentry also met his teammates on the field during a TV timeout later in the game, in an attempt to continue to encourage his fellow defenders.
The continuous effort and heart from Gentry spoke volumes about the linebacker's maturation process as a Trojan and a sophomore starter.
Three unexpected Trojans found their way into the end zone Saturday night. Redshirt senior tight end Josh Falo hadn't recorded a reception since 2019, but scored not one, but two touchdowns against the Utes. His two receptions on the night were efficient, as both added six points each to USC's total. Earlier in the week, head coach Lincoln Riley praised the tight end for his turnaround this season in the face of accountability.
Lincoln Riley says that he had multiple "candid conversations" with Josh Falo about why a guy of his size hasn't been able to progress more in his career. Sounds like the head coach has tried to hold Falo more accountable.
"I'm proud of him," Riley said.
— Keely Eure (@keelyismyname) October 13, 2022
Wide receiver Michael Jackson III also simultaneously recorded his first reception of the season and his first touchdown as a Trojan. In addition, redshirt freshman Kyron Hudson scored his second touchdown of the season on his sole catch of the night.
"It was awesome," Williams said of their contributions.
"That was cool to see those guys step up in that moment," Riley added. "We're going to need more to do it on all three sides of the ball. But we had some really key contributors all the way around that stepped up and made some big plays for this football team. That will continue to be a big part of the goal for us."
The Trojans struggled to contain Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid, who finished the game with 234 yards on 16 receptions with a touchdown. His total yardage broke Utah's record for receiving yards by a tight end. Kincaid is the first tight end since 2000 to have at least 16 catches and 200-plus yards in a single game, per Sports Reference. Riley said after the game that the main issue USC had when it came to Kincaid was tackling.
"We switched coverage up on him a few times," Riley said. "We could have been better in coverage at times. But I think the biggest thing coming out of that is we did not do a good job tackling. We tried to hit him a lot, instead of wrapping him up. The yards after the catch that he had really hurt us."
Potential Fuel to the Fire
Passionate, but composed anger appeared to be the underlying tone in USC's postgame press conference. It was the type of response you would expect from competitors who would die for one more down or one more opportunity to change Saturday's outcome. It's noteworthy, however, that the Trojans' players did not seem defeated by what occurred at Rice-Eccles. If anything, it seemed like it added "fuel to the fire," as running back Travis Dye explained following the game.
"A lot of our staff, we've been there. We know what it's like to make a run," Riley said. "And this team has got a real shot. We gotta go do it. I mean it ain't gonna just happen. But if we handle this like I think we will, we got a real shot."
All things considered, USC's bye week comes at an ideal time. The Trojans have an opportunity to regroup after their first loss of the season and ideally rest aching bodies found across the Trojans' roster.
"I'm pissed right now because we lost and are disappointed for the guys," Riley said. "They fought their guts out. But it's balanced between that and I'm so excited for the back half of this year and so excited to keep coaching these guys. Shit, I'm ready to go practice right now."