2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 2 - Utah at USC
Pac-12 Fearless Predictions &
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at USC 23 … Utah 14
CFN Analysis: This was the kind of game USC didn't win last year. Could this mean the team is ready to be clutch, to make up for the lack of talent compared to the pre-sanctions version? Matt Barkely was fine and effective, and Robert Woods followed up his big game against Minnesota with 102 yards on eight catches, but the big key was the return of Marc Tyler to form, with 113 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. The secondary has been a bit too shaky, and it took a miracle blocked kick to preserve the win, but considering all the problems and issues, starting out 2-0 isn't bad.
Welcome to the Pac-12, Utah. It's not that easy. USC isn't the USC of the past, but Utah still couldn't get much of anything going on the ground a struggled all game long to find anything that consistently worked other than the Jordan Wynn-to-DeVonte Christopher combination that hooked up for 136 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches. Utah became a power by blasting away with the running game, but it only came up with 81 yards with John White having a hard time getting free. Now the Utes have to get ready for another grinding, emotional game with a trip to BYU coming up, and to win, the pass rush has to be better and more active. Utah has just three sacks and six tackles for loss in two games.
(AP) LOS ANGELES -- If Southern California's victory in the first game in Pac-12 history is any indication of what's in store, the rest of the country had better not fall asleep before the West Coast games are finished.
It might be a good idea to stay up for a few hours after that, too.
Matt Kalil blocked Utah's 41-yard field goal attempt on the final play and Torin Harris returned it for a touchdown that wasn't counted until two hours after the game ended in USC's 23-14 win Saturday night in this expanded league's wacky debut.
Matt Barkley passed for 264 yards for the Trojans (2-0, 1-0), but the Utes drove into field-goal range from their 33 in the final 1:01, helped by two favorable rulings that put them in position for a tying field goal.
That's when Kalil easily swatted down Coleman Petersen's final kick, and Harris returned it all the way into the Utah end zone.
"It hit my forearm, so it didn't even get over my hand," said Kalil, the Trojans' 6-foot-7 left tackle. "Luckily, I'm a tall guy."
The officials appeared to rule the touchdown didn't count because of an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty when much of the USC bench ran onto the field to celebrate. But long after the Coliseum had emptied, Pac-12 officials announced Harris had scored after all, saying the penalty was declined by rule.
The conference was expected to release a longer statement on its decision late Saturday night.
USC was favored by eight or nine points for most of the week leading up to the game.
Whatever the final score, it sure was a unique debut for the Pac-12.
Marc Tyler rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown in his return from suspension, and Robert Woods had eight catches for 102 yards for the Trojans.
"I was trying to follow what was going on with the refs, but we had so many chances to put that game away," said Barkley, who went 20-for-32. "The defense won this game for us, no doubt about it."
The Pac-12's debut game matched the conference's newest member against the winningest program in league history. Once the biggest BCS-busters outside Boise State, Utah and its raucous fans didn't look at all out of place in the venerable Coliseum.
"It was baptism by fire," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We stayed toe-to-toe, but we have to find a way to win close games. ... If you have a group of competitive guys, you want to play the best in the country. Personnel-wise, USC stacks up with anyone in the country."
Perhaps so do the Utes (1-1, 0-1). A week after USC was shut out in the second half by lowly Minnesota, Utah forced three key turnovers and shut out the Trojans for the final 24 minutes -- other than the crazy return on the final play.
Neither team was particularly impressive offensively in the second half, with nobody scoring at all in the final 21 minutes. Barkley threw a 9-yard scoring pass to Xavier Grimble, but the Trojans also committed two turnovers deep in Utah territory in the first half.
"It's never fun to lose that way," said Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, who passed for 238 yards and a touchdown. "We gave ourselves a chance. We drove down there. I thought we were going to play some more football, but it didn't work out that way."
After Wynn threw three incompletions on Utah's final drive, USC thought it had won when Harris tackled DeVonte Christopher inches shy of the first-down marker with 20 seconds left. But after video review, officials changed the spot and gave a first down to Utah.
Tony Burnett then committed pass interference with 11 seconds left, moving Utah to the Trojans 24. The Utes immediately got their field-goal team on the field.
USC students poured out of the stands to join Harris and his teammates.
Imagine the celebration if they'd known the score counted.
"It did kind of seem like forever," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "You kept hoping for a play that would end the game. ... I thought our guys came out good again. We're there. We're playing really well in all phases of the game. We're just not putting people away."
Christopher had 11 catches for 136 yards and a score for the Utes, who hadn't played USC in the Coliseum since 1948. South Los Angeles native John White rushed for a score for the Utes, but they struggled to move the ball consistently all day.
Tyler returned to the USC lineup after missing the season opener under team suspension for a series of misdeeds culminating in an ill-advised appearance on TMZ. The Trojans' leading rusher last season was allowed to return to practice late last month, and he ran with obvious urgency in his return, getting 24 carries.
"This is something I've dreamed about doing since I got in trouble, just coming back and being a big impact to the fans and my teammates," Tyler said.
USC kicker Andre Heidari scored the first points in Pac-12 history on a 47-yard field goal, and Tyler scored the first touchdown late in the first quarter on a short drive set up by White's fumble.
After USC freshman D.J. Morgan fumbled, Utah finally solved USC's defense with a 12-play, 84-yard drive culminating in Wynn's 10-yard TD pass to Christopher with 34 seconds left.
USC scored its final points on an 88-yard drive shortly after halftime featuring three big receptions by Grimble, the freshman tight end from Las Vegas. One play before Grimble's 9-yard TD catch, the Utes committed two penalties against Woods on the same play, determined to disrupt USC's top playmaker after his school-record 17 catches last week.
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Utah (1-0) at USC (1-0) Sept. 10, 7:30, Versus
Here's The Deal … USC spun a half-hearted effort in the first game of head coach Lane Kiffin's second year. Fortunately for the Trojans, a manageable Minnesota squad was their opening day opponent. After busting out of the gate to take an apparent commanding lead, Troy failed to score over the final 30 minutes, and needed a late defensive stop to hold on, 19-17. The staff knows its team needs to bring it on a more consistent basis, especially against a schedule that features precious few lay-ups. Enter Utah.
For the Utes this is a historic road trip, their first to the Coliseum since 1948. It also marks their first conference game as a member of the Pac-12 and the return of offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who piloted the Trojans offense under Pete Carroll. The team might have peering ahead last Thursday, beating Montana State in a sluggish 27-10 affair. Ironically, Utah, like USC, opened like gangbusters before tapping on the brakes and holding on for the victory.
Why Utah Might Win: If the unsettled USC offensive line is going to mesh, now would be the time to do it. The Utes are going to present a significant challenge in the trenches Saturday night. NT Star Lotulelei is the kind of interior beast who normally wears a Trojans jersey, and linemates Derrick Shelby and Dave Kruger can mess with the integrity of the pocket. Utah, in general, is a scrappy bunch that'll help perpetuate USC's problems in the running game. Linebackers Brian Blechen, Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker epitomize the unit, playing to the whistle and forcing opponents to earn every yard it gains.
Why USC Might Win: While the Trojans are much more than just QB Matt Barkley and WR Robert Woods, the pitch-and-catch combo is capable of carrying the program on its back. The pair, clearly working in a synchronized fashion, hooked up a school-record 17 times for 177 yards and three touchdowns last week. Utah's work-in-progress defensive backfield, which experienced all kinds of problems in 2010, is facing its first prove-it moment of 2011. If USC can play with a little more offensive consistency, beyond just two quarters, it could take the Utes out of their comfort zone. Utah failed to execute properly versus Montana State, sputtering on third down and averaging a mealy four yards per pass attempt.
What To Watch Out For: Unlike a year ago, the Trojans were solid on defense, holding the Gophers to just 110 yards on the ground. Can the effort bloom into a trend? Utah QB Jordan Wynn should be crisper than he was in Week 1, and JUCO transfer RB John White impressed with 150 yards and a score on the ground. USC has to get a push up front in order to keep the Utes from finding their rhythm. DE Nick Perry will be in the spotlight, especially when lined up opposite Utah's best pass protector Tony Bergstrom.
What Will Happen: A Kyle Whittingham team is never an easy out, especially now that Chow is on the Utah staff. This trip to Los Angeles is a big deal in Salt Lake City, and the players know it. Looking much sharper than a week ago, the Utes will arrive at the Coliseum ready to compete. USC, though, will make strides as well. The Trojans will get a little extra help from the backs, with Woods getting so much attention from the defense. For the second straight week, Troy will survive a fourth quarter scare, holding on to hand Utah its first loss.
CFN Prediction: USC 30 … Utah 24
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USC -8.5 O/U: 52
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