Utah's 15-play, 93-yard drive to beat USC was a master class in not playing scared
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The Utes weren’t afraid, and they mounted the drive of the year. That Utah beat USC on Friday, 31-27, isn’t as noteworthy as it might ordinarily be. The Trojans have been kind of a mess all year, and the Utes entered ranked No. 24 in the country, playing at home. Even that Utah came back from a second-half, two-touchdown deficit isn’t that big a deal. What’s a big deal is the total brashness Utah threw at the Trojans on the game-winning scoring drive. Kyle Whittingham coached the opposite of scared, and this was his reward.
No doubt that @Tpstreets earns the @Utah_Football #12Best moment for icing the game in crunch time! https://t.co/PZ7lp7SVxw
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 24, 2016
That’s a game-winning 18-yard touchdown pass from Troy Williams to Tim Patrick with 16 seconds left, pulling the Utes from a field goal down to four points up in the game’s last moments. Nice play.
But the drive that led up to the winning score is the real story here.
The Utes took over on their own 7-yard line with 5:30 on the clock. That left 93 yards for the winning touchdown, or maybe about 63 yards to set up a game-tying field goal. The score was 27-24, USC.
Williams threw incomplete passes on their first two plays of the drive. Then he threw another on a third-and-10, but a pass interference call kept the Utes in business. (Remember that there was still enough time left that Utah surely would’ve punted and played to get the ball back if it hadn’t gotten such a call.)
As the drive plodded down the field, Utah faced two fourth-and-1 spots, and Whittingham didn’t blink. First, he didn’t send out his field goal unit from USC’s 35, which made obvious sense, because #collegekickers and all. On the next fourth-and-1, well inside the last minute, he ran Zack Moss straight ahead from USC’s 23. Obviously, the Utes picked up first downs on both occasions, while their kicker watched from the sidelines. He probably doesn’t mind, in retrospect.
The winning touchdown came with Adoree’ Jackson, one of the country’s most electric players, out of position against Patrick. The Utah receiver caught Williams’ pass, tapped a couple of feet and fell on his butt. That was enough.
The Utes got the ball because USC coach Clay Helton opted to punt on a fourth-and-3 from the Utah 47 with over five minutes left to play. That’s not an indefensible decision when you’re winning by a field goal, as Helton was then. But it’s conservative, and being conservative got Helton bitten. Whittingham was proactive, and it worked.
USC’s going to feel terrible about this for a long time.
Previously, the Utes trailed 24-10 midway through the third quarter. USC seemed pretty well set to get out of Salt Lake City with a badly needed win, but then the Utes started chipping away. A Utah fumble recovery touchdown kicked off a run of three late (or late-ish) scores, against one for USC. The never-ending final drive came last. That ended with the Williams-to-Patrick kill shot, which has USC at 1-3 and looking like a disaster.
USC got a solid debut effort from redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. The Trojans started veteran Max Browne for the season’s first three games, but a 1-2 start prompted Helton to give the keys to Darnold. He didn’t disappoint, making a couple high-difficulty plays and finishing with 253 yards on 18-of-26 passing. He also ran nine times for 41 yards. An 8-yard Darnold touchdown run in the third quarter gave the Trojans what turned out to be their doomed two-touchdown lead.
He deserved better than to be associated with this sort of late-game undressing, but that’s how this cookie crumbled.
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