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.