In a game key to its hopes of playing in the postseason, USC defeated Utah, 19-3, Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
USC’s defense came up with four turnovers, including three interceptions, as the Trojans dominated a team who two weeks before upset then-No. 5-ranked Stanford.
Of course, Utah’s Stanford win was at home, where the Utes are especially tough. But even in a couple of losses – 51-48 in overtime to No. 24 Oregon State and 34-27 to No. 12 UCLA – Utah played well.
Not so much against USC.
Utes quarterback Travis Wilson, from San Clemente High, had a miserable day and was replaced by backup Adam Schulz late in the third quarter. Wilson completed just five of 14 passes for 51 yards, with two interceptions. Wilson did manage 42 yards running, however, which made him Utah’s leading rusher.
USC improved to 5-3 overall, 2-2 in Pac-12 Conference play. Utah fell to 4-4, 1-4 in conference games.
The Trojans, even with the turnovers and typically good field position, didn’t light up the scoreboard. USC did play keep away well, though, and had a significant edge in time of possession until late in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Cody Kessler completed 21 of 32 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown. Tre Madden, returning from a hamstring injury, led the Trojans in rushing with 60 yards in 12 carries.
Nelson Agholor paced USC receivers with six receptions for 97 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown catch that gave the Trojans a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter. Darreus Rogers had five catches for 62 yards.
USC also benefited from a bounce-back game from kicker Andre Heidari, who missed two key field goals in a loss to Notre Dame and had his starting job on the line in practice last week.
Heidari kicked four field goals, from 35, 38, 28 and 40 yards.
Interim Coach Ed Orgeron has won two of three games since taking over after USC fired Lane Kiffin.
With his roster depleted by injuries – All-American receiver Marqise Lee didn’t play, joining a couple of other starters who are out for extended periods – Orgeron sounded happy with his team’s effort during a post-game television interview.
“I’m really proud of our football team, our family,” he said.
Asked what the Trojans had showed facing such adversity, he said, “Resilient. Very mentally tough. The will to win.”
He added: “They practiced very hard this week. I felt … we were growing as a football team, as a family. It showed today.”
In addition to the four turnovers, USC sacked the quarterback five times.
USC isn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard, but the Trojans are managing to move the chains enough to keep the ball away from Utah.
With 4 minutes 42 seconds left, Utah has the ball on its own 20, still trailing, 19-3.
USC's Cody Kessler has completed 21 of 31 passes for 230 yards, and Tre Madden is up to 60 yards rushing in 12 carries.
The Trojans have a more than seven-minute advantage in time of possession.
The USC defense has five sacks.
USC 19, Utah 3 (end of the third quarter)
Andre Heidari had a chance to extend the lead, but he missed a 37-yard field goal attempt with 4:50 left in the quarter.
Heidari has made four of five field-goal attempts in the game.
Utah finished the quarter by converting a third-down play that will give them a first down at USC's 17 to start the fourth quarter.
USC has outgained Utah, 211-150, but the Trojans have scored only one touchdown.
Adam Schulz has replaced Travis Wilson at quarterback for Utah.
USC 19, Utah 3 (10:14 left in the third quarter)
Andrei Heidari kicked his fourth field goal of the game, converting from 40 yards to give the Trojans a 16-point lead.
Heidari missed two field goals against Notre Dame last week, causing interim Coach Ed Oregron to open the competition for field goal duties.
Heidari held off walk-ons Alex Wood and Craig McMahon to keep his job.
Heidari has kicked field goals of 35, 28, 38 and 40 yards.
USC 16, Utah 3 (halftime)
USC intercepted three passes, and Andre Heidari kicked three field goals, including two in the final 28 seconds of the first half to help give the Trojans a 13-point lead.
Heidari's 38-yard field goal with 28 seconds left came after freshman Leon McQuay III intercepted a pass for the Trojans.
On the ensuing possession, safety Su'a Cravens intercepted a pass by Utah reserve quarterback Adam Schulz and returned it to the Utah 10 with two seconds left. Heidari kicked a 28-yard field goal as time expired.
USC has outgained Utah, 135-132.
USC quarterback Cody Kessler has completed 11 of 16 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has completed five of 10 passes for 51 yards, with two interceptions.
USC tailback Tre Madden, who sat out last week against Notre Dame because of a hamstring injury, has rushed for 27 yards in four carries.
Nelson Agholor has two receptions for 47 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown.
Senior receiver De'Von Flournoy has two catches for 45 yards.
USC 10, Utah 3 (13:35 left in the second quarter)
USC's defense came up with another big play to help the offense.
Defensive tackle Antwaun Woods sacked Utah quarterback Travis Wilson and forced him to fumble. Linebacker Anthony Sarao recovered the ball, giving USC a first down at the Utes' 19-yard line.
But USC's troubles inside the 20 continued.
Kicker Andre Heidari, who missed two field-goal attempts against Notre Dame, came on and converted a 35-yard field goal to give the Trojans a seven-point lead.
Quarterback Cody Kessler has completed six of 10 passes for 52 yards and a touchdown.
The Trojans have rushed for only two yards.
USC 7, Utah 3 (end of first quarter)
Moving Josh Shaw from safety to cornerback paid immediate dividends for USC.
Shaw intercepted a pass by Travis Wilson, setting up Cody Kessler's 30-yard touchdown pass to receiver Nelson Agholor with 46 seconds left in the quarter.
The turnover helped spark an offense that went three and out on its first two possessions.
After Shaw's interception, Kessler's fourth-down completion to receiver Darreus Rogers gave the Trojans a first down at the Utah 31. Tailback Javorius Allen fumbled on the next play, but USC recovered.
Kessler completed a pass to Agholor at the 5-yard line near the right sideline, and Agholor slipped a defender and dove into the end zone.
Utah 3, USC 0 (10:45 left in the first quarter)
Utah took the opening possessions and drove 50 yards in 10 plays, with kicker Andy Phillips making a 42-yard field goal for the early lead.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson scrambled 24 yards on a third-down play to move the Utes to USC's 19-yard line.
But three plays later, linebacker Devon Kennard pressured Wilson and end Leonard Williams sacked the 6-foot-7 quarterback for a seven-yard loss.
Wilson completed two for three passes for 11 yards.
It’s about an hour before kick-off at the Coliseum, where injury-depleted USC is preparing to play Utah with a lineup that figures to include several walk-ons.
With receiver Marqise Lee sidelined, and Nelson Agholor out or limited, walk-on receivers Robby Kolanz, Cody Skene and Christian Tober will probably see action.
All of USC’s scholarship tight ends – Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick – are injured. Walk-ons Chris Wilson and Shane Sullivan will get opportunities and walk-on tackle Nate Guertler also could play.
Starting linebacker Lamar Dawson suffered a season-ending knee injury during practice this week, so third-year sophomore Anthony Sarao will start. Freshmen Quinton Powell and Michael Hutchings also will play.
Kickers Andre Heidari and Alex Wood are warming up.
With Heidari struggling, USC interim Coach Ed Orgeron opened the competition for field-goal duties. We’ll see who gets the first opportunity.