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No. 24 Utah rallies to beat USC

No. 24 Utah rallies to beat USC
Published On: Fri, Sep 23
Sep 3, 2015; Logan, UT, USA; Utah State Aggies running back LaJuan Hunt (21) runs the ball up the field against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds during the fourth quarter at Romney Stadium. Utah State Aggies won the game 12-9. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah had no intention of playing for overtime when it trailed by three points on its final drive against USC on Friday. The 24th-ranked Utes did everything they could to deliver a knockout punch.

They landed critical blows on a pair of fourth-down conversions to keep the drive alive. Then, an 18-yard touchdown pass from Troy Williams to Tim Patrick with 16 seconds left put the Trojans down for the count. With a 31-27 comeback victory over USC, Utah showed it possesses a killer instinct when the game is on the line.

"They're a bunch of mentally tough guys," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "They believe in what we're doing and they believe in each other. That's the bottom line."

Williams threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Utes (4-0) to a win in their Pac-12 opener for the second consecutive season. Patrick made the biggest play with his go-ahead touchdown catch as he fell backward into the end zone. A couple of equally critical plays came earlier in the drive.

Utah faced fourth-and-1 twice in USC territory. Armand Shyne converted the first one with a 3-yard run to the Trojan 32. Zack Moss converted the second one with a 5-yard run to the 18 with 45 seconds left. Both times, the Utes' offensive line gave a big enough push to create wide running lanes for the two backs.

For the second time in three years, it added up to a dramatic last-minute win over a traditional Pac-12 heavyweight.

"You play video games against USC," senior left guard Isaac Asiata said. "Those are the wins you dream about as a kid."

Patrick finished with 100 receiving yards on six receptions for his third 100-yard game of the season. Moss added 90 rushing yards on 23 carries to lead Utah on the ground.

USC redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold threw for 253 yards and rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown in his first collegiate start. Justin Davis added 126 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. It wasn't enough to help USC (1-3) avoid its third loss to a Top 25 team in four games.

Darnold played with poise through the second and third quarters to help the Trojans build up a two-touchdown lead early in the second half. At one point, he completed a 21-yard pass to Taylor McNamara and a 35-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on back-to-back plays to set up his own 8-yard touchdown run. It gave USC a 24-10 lead with 9:48 left in the third quarter.

"I thought for a guy making his first start, this is as good as you can hope for," USC coach Clay Helton said.

Utah battled back. The Utes trimmed the lead to a touchdown after narrowly avoiding a costly turnover. Shyne fumbled at the goal line and offensive lineman Isaac Asiata recovered the ball amid a pile in the end zone to preserve a Utes touchdown.

The play swung momentum and Utah cashed in again on its next drive. Moss gained 2 yards on fourth-and-1 from the USC 12 to set up a 10-yard touchdown catch by Raelon Singleton. That cut USC's lead to 27-24 with 9:45 left.

The Utes then forced USC to punt on its ensuing drive and that set up Utah's game-winning 15-play, 93-yard drive.

"We were able to run it down their throat effectively the whole game and punch the ball in at the end," Williams said. "We have a lot of confidence in our offensive line and our offense. Whatever play was called, we knew we would get a great push and make it."

USC struggled to hold onto the ball in the first half. The Trojans coughed up fumbles on each of their first three offensive possessions -- each time after advancing into Utah territory.

The Utes cashed in on the first fumble with a 10-yard touchdown run by Williams. Utah ran 12 straight plays on the drive, culminating in Williams' keeper on a read-option play.

USC wasted no time answering. Adoree Jackson returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to tie it at 7-7. Jackson also scored on a 100-yard kickoff return against Utah in 2014.

The Trojans seemed to have all the momentum when they recovered a Moss fumble after a first-down run on Utah's next possession. But USC fumbled on back-to-back possessions to kill promising drives. Utah cashed in on the second of those USC fumbles, going ahead 10-7 on a 36-yard field goal by Andy Phillips with 6:39 left before halftime.

Once the Trojans finally held onto the ball, they had success. Davis ripped off a 50-yard run to set up his eventual 14-yard scoring run that gave USC its first lead at 14-10. A 32-yard field goal from Matt Boermeester extended the Trojans' advantage to 17-10 with 35 seconds left in the first half.

USC totaled 267 yards at halftime - 137 on the ground and 130 through the air.

"I thought it was a very balanced attack and allowed us to move the ball and get in the end zone," Helton said. "I'm very proud of our quarterback and thought he did a very great job in a hostile atmosphere and really led this football team."

NOTES: USC lost a fumble on three first-half drives after not losing a fumble in its first three games of the season. ... Trojan RB Justin Davis rushed for 102 yards and scored a touchdown on just six carries in the first half. ... Utah ran the ball on 13 consecutive plays to open the game. The Utes rushed 32 times before halftime while passing just nine times. Utah was 4-of-4 on fourth down. ... The teams combined for 922 yards of offense.

Read the complete news article here...

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