USC barely edges Utah, 17-14, in Pac-12 opener
Well, that wasn't exactly artistic.
USC overcame two fumbles, an interception and several ill-timed penalties to outlast Utah, 17-14, in the Pacific 12 Conference opener before 73,821 at the Coliseum.
The game was not decided until USC's Matt Kalil blocked a 41-yard field-goal attempt by Coleman Peterson with 11 seconds left. Torin Harris returned the ball to the end zone for an apparent touchdown, but USC players had streamed onto the field during the return, incurring an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that nullified the return.
Senior tailback Marc Tyler returned from a suspension and rushed for 113 yards in 24 carries and scored a touchdown as USC imporoved to 2-0.
USC, which led 10-7 at halftime, scored on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Matt Barkley to Xavier Grimble in the third quarter for a 10-point lead and held on for the victory.
The Trojans defense stifled five Utah possessions in the fourth quarter.
USC appeared to clinch the victory when officials ruled that Utah came up inches short on a fourth-and-10 play with 20 seconds left. But a review of the spot showed the Utes had gained a first down, giving them one last play before trying to kick a field goal that could have tied the score.
Barkley completed 20 of 32 passes for 263 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn was 23 of 46 for 238 yards and a touchdown.
USC 17, Utah 14 (6:20 left in the third quarter)
If at first you don't succeed...
First, let's back up.
USC defensive back Dion Baily snuffed out the play and made a nice open-field tackle, giving USC the ball at about midfield.
But, a play later, USC turned it over, its third giveaway of the game, when tight end Xavier Grimble fumbled after a short catch.
And, wouldn't you know, the Utes tried a reverse on their very next play ... and it worked, as Reggie Dunn sprinted 51 yards down the left sideline to the USC one-yard line.
Utah's John White punched it in two plays later, and after an extra point we have a three-point game.
USC 17, Utah 7 (9:52 left in third quarter)
Utah got the ball to start the second half, but handed it back to USC, via punt, after an unproductive six-play drive.
USC, in turn, drove 88 yards in only seven plays and a tidy 3 minutes 32 seconds before padding its lead with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Matt Barkley to receiver Xavier Grimble.
USC kicked the extra point, again, so it's now officially a trend.
It was fitting that Grimble finished off the drive after he began it with a 36-yard catch. Also making a cameo on the drive was Robert Woods (you've heard of him, surely) with a 12-yard catch on a third-down play.
But just as USC has hurt itself with turnovers, Utah made some costly mistakes on the drive, namely penalties for pass interference and a personal foul that moved USC to the nine-yard line.
Barkley has completed 15 of 22 passes for 220 yards, with one touchdown and an interception. Woods has caught five passes for 70 yards. Grimble has caught four passes for 59 yards and a touchdown.
And USC has 314 yards of offense.
USC 10, Utah 7 (34 seconds left before halftime)
Utah has now scored more points than it ever had before at this building.
Granted, the Utes had only scored two points in three previous trips to the Coliseum, but still.
Jordan Wynn threw a 10-yard pass to DeVonte Chistopher on second down to pull Utah to within four points, and an extra point (an idea foreign to USC Coach Lane Kiffin) made the difference just three.
The scoring toss finished off a 12-play, 84-yard drive that began with a USC turnover.
The key play on the drive was a fantastic catch on third down by Utah receiver Dres Anderson, who snagged a pass that was thrown behind him and rumbled 17 yards for a first down.
Another clutch play was a 30-yard toss from Wynn to Christopher down the left sideline that was heavily covered.
Utah is gaining confidence on offense, having gained 152 yards, 133 by Wynn, who has completed 13 of 23 passes and is being more aggressive, as he said he would earlier this week.
USC has been playing well on offense, too, having picked up 238 yards, 151 by Barkley, who has completed 10 of 17 passes.
Robert Woods has four catches for 58 yards and Marc Tyler is running quite hard with 54 yards in 11 carries.
But the Trojans have just 10 points because they keep shooting themselves in the foot.
At the 10:12 mark in the second quarter, with the Trojans facing third down and four yards from Utah's 21-yard line, Barkley threw a risky pass down the right sideline that was intended for USC fullback Rhett Ellison. And that risk didn't pay off and was instead picked off by Utah defensive back Ryan Lacy.
Barkley had been throwing some dicey passes before that one. He threw one two plays before the interception to the opposite side of the field that easily could've been intercepted.
But the interception in Utah territory ended up being inconsequential as USC forced the Utes to punt six plays later.
On the following drive, USC started to move the ball, with double-digit yard gains on throws from Barkley to Woods, but a turnover against hurt the Trojans when running back D.J. Morgan fumbled on first and 10 from Utah's 12-yard line.
Morgan fumbled when he ran into the line and Utah linebacker Boo Anderson, who we can all agree has a great name, scooped it up with 4:43 left.
USC 10, Utah 0 (1:58 left first quarter)
Norm Chow's return to the Coliseum isn't going too well.
After USC's Andre Heidari kicked a 47-yard field goal that barely had enough air underneath it to go through the uprights, giving USC the game's first points, Utah fumbled it on its next possession.
The fumble occurred on an errant pitch to Utah running back John White and Trojans defensive back T.J. McDonald recovered at Utah's 20-yard line.
Four plays later, USC was in the end zone when running back Marc Tyler, who returned from a one-game suspension, scored from six yards.
Utah has 0 yards of offense, which shouldn't make Chow, the team's offensive coordinator, too happy.
USC, meanwhile, has 123 yards of offense.
On 9/10/11, we debut the Pac-12.
You'd think the league officials worked that out just to be cute.
Or that they hitched USC and Utah together for the newly expanded conference's inaugural football game, considering the bounty of story lines such a matchup offers.
-Call this the Norm Chow Bowl, or part one of his three-stop reunion tour.
The Utes' offensive coordinator led the offense at USC from 2001-04, and those were some decent seasons, to say the least. (He tutored Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart and USC won national two titles, though the second was stripped.)
He groomed a 24-year-old Trojans assistant named Lane Kiffin, and then Kiffin ultimately succeeded him. Kiffin wanted him back in 2010 when he became the head coach at USC, but Chow, then at UCLA, said no thanks.
Of course, Chow runs into former colleagues often -- "faceless names," he calls them -- and he'll do it next week, too, when the Utes host Brigham Young, where Chow coached for decades.
And on Oct. 1, for Utah's homecoming, Chow will go against a quarterback he coached at BYU, Steve Sarkisian, who was a former USC coaching colleague and now runs the Washington Huskies.
For the record, this is the fourth time Chow has faced USC since he left seven years ago. His UCLA teams have lost in the previous three games: 28-7, 28-7, 28-14.
-Old hat vs. the new guy
USC is cardinal and gold, but beneath that pumps some of the bluest blood in college football, rich with Heisman Trophy winners, national championships, All-Americans, et al.
Meanwhile, Utah is an import from the Mountain West Conference that many consider mid-major despite the Utes winning 80 games since 2003, plus convincing wins in the Fiesta (2005 versus Pittsburgh) and Sugar (2009 against Alabama) bowls.
Utah wants to prove it belongs in this league.
USC wants to reassure its now-skeptical fans who witnessed the Trojans squeak out a 19-17 win against Minnesota in their season-opener.
That's enough for storylines, but how about some interesting tidbits to munch on before we kickoff.
-USC hasn't lost at home in September since 2001, when Kansas State beat the Trojans, 10-6. That USC season ended in the Las Vegas Bowl...against Utah...and the Trojans lost...10-6.
-There's a fellow they call "The Juice," and they used to say when this fellow, a running back, was bowling over defenses that "The Juice is loose." Well, this fellow was named Orenthal James Simpson and he played at USC, and he played well, winning the 1968 Heisman Trophy. But he nearly went to Utah. Simpson didn't have very good grades in high school so he went to San Francisco City College to start his football career and, after a pair of great seasons, the junior college All-American made a visit to Salt Lake City and liked what he saw. Simpson verbally agreed to become a Ute, but USC stepped in and stole him away. And that is that.
-This is Utah's first trip to the Memorial Coliseum -- which is a National Historic Landmark, by the way -- in 63 years. The Utes have scored only two points in their three visits here, losing 28-2 in 1925 and getting shut out in 1932 (35-0) and 1948 (27-0).
-A quote to remember, via Utah defensive lineman Dave Kruger, No. 44 in your program:
"I feel like we're underestimated and I feel like USC thinks they're going to come out and just walk all over us, and that's not going to be the case," he said this week, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
"They'll find that out on Saturday."
So will the rest of us, if that's indeed the case.
-- Baxter Holmes
Photo: USC tailback Marc Tyler scores on a six-yard run in the first quarter against Utah on Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times