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USC Falls Late In Utah Amidst Another Fourth Quarter Meltdown

Paolo Uggetti |
October 25, 2014 | 11:54 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Head Coach Steve Sarkisian frustrated after the Trojan's third loss of the season (Getty Images)
Head Coach Steve Sarkisian frustrated after the Trojan's third loss of the season (Getty Images)
On paper, it was an even matchup. The No. 19 team in the country against the No. 20 team in the country. The ninth-best offense in the Pac-12 against the eighth-best offense in the Pac-12. The third-best defense in the Pac-12 against the fourth-best defense in the Pac-12.

And on Saturday night, in the high altitude of Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, the rankings on paper were vivified on the gridiron, as the USC Trojans (5-2, 4-1 Pac-12) battled the Utah Utes (5-1, 2-1) in an evenly matched, defensively competitive game that saw the Trojans implode in the fourth quarter once again falling by a score of 24-21 to the Utes.

Coming into the game, the Trojans sat atop the Pac-12 South, yet they knew very well their destiny was not in their hands due to the last-minute Arizona State prayer that does not bear another discussion. Fourth-quarter meltdowns had become an all too familiar event for the Trojans, and that proved to be the damning case once again.

It all began awry for the Trojans when, on just their second play from scrimmage, USC junior quarterback Cody Kessler threw a lateral pass to wide receiver Darreus Rogers who dropped it. In a move that displayed complete lack of awareness, no one attempted to recover the ball—thinking it was a forward pass—and only Utah defensive back Davion Orphey seized the opportunity by taking the ball 53 yards, untouched for the opening score.

Then it all ended with the inevitable and the now-customary collapse, as Utah quarterback Travis Wilson marched his team down the field and produced a half-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds left that gave Utah the comeback win and handed the Trojans their third loss of the year.

“I’ve been saying it for a couple of weeks now,” sophomore safety Su’a Cravens pointed out, “We need to know how to finish.”

That lack of finishing leaves this team with yet another loss, and yet another letdown. Another heartbreaking result for a Trojan team that keeps giving games away.

From the mental lapse to begin the game, to the turnovers, to the questionable play-calling on third down and fourth down alike, it seems like the aggressive team that blew out Colorado last week failed to make the trip up to Salt Lake City on Saturday night. 

Though Kessler had his second-best completion percentage of the season going 24-for-32 with 2 touchdowns, and junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor had a career-high ten catches, and even junior running back Buck Allen once again crossed the 100-yard rushing mark for the seventh time this season, there was certainly no record-breaking performance or offensive explosion in the cards this time around.

Cody Kessler and the offense's inconsistent performance led to the last-second loss. (Getty Images)
Cody Kessler and the offense's inconsistent performance led to the last-second loss. (Getty Images)

After their first scoring drive, both Kessler and the rest of the offense failed to find a rhythm. On the next seven offensive drives after the first score, the Trojan’s drives resulted in five punts, a fumble and an interception; only the second of Kessler’s season.

Finally, their eighth drive in the fourth quarter of the game showed a much more confident Kessler. Standing poised in the pocket and evading a strong Utah defense—that leads college football in sacks—he led the Trojans to a 12-play, 73-yard drive giving the team the 21-14 lead with 3:52 left. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, their own defense was keeping the Trojans in the contest. Tasked with containing Utah running back Devontae Booker—one of the best backs in the Pac-12, if not the country—the Trojan defense held him to 102 yards per carry, a success considering Booker had been running for 178 yards or more the past three games. And though Utah quarterback Travis Wilson had 193 yards in the air, the Trojan defense contained the dual-threat quarterback effectively.

After Kessler’s stellar drive to regain the lead, the defense did their job once again and forced the Utes to punt for the seventh time in the game. Add that to three forced fumbles, an interception and plenty of crucial third-down stops throughout and it is fair to say the defense showed up in the moments that mattered.

Until the one that mattered the most, that is.

The exceptional two-minute drill that Wilson and the Utes ran to conclude their comeback victory was painfully excruciating, and a microcosm of this game.

Not at any point in that drive did it seem like the inevitable winning touchdown would become evitable, and not at any point in which the Trojans had the lead was there a sense of confidence that they would be able to pull the win out.

“We’ve seen it all,” said Sarkisian after the game.

The massacre at Boston College. The Hail Mary against ASU. The near-collapse in Arizona. Now we can add the Salt Lake City letdown to that list too.

With Arizona St. and Arizona both winning, the Trojans now fall back in the pack of those still vying for a Pac-12 south title.

Now, after two conference losses, the hope of a Pac-12 title is not impossible, but seems unreachable with three teams ahead of the Trojans and tough matchups still to come.

“You never know in this conference what can happen,” said senior linebacker Hayes Pullard after the game 

If there is a bright spot in this loss is that college football has been anything but ordinary this year, the impossible has become possible and the unlikely has become likely. Therefore, all is certainly not lost.

But if the inability to close out games and hold on to leads continues, not even a wild season like this one can save the Trojans from their self-inflicted demise.

Reach Staff Reporter Paolo Uggetti here or follow him on Twitter.



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