USC vs. Utah: Live Game Grades and Player Analysis for the Trojans
Matt Barkley threw for over 300 yards, and USC outscored Utah 38-14 after falling behind 14-0 within the first three minutes of the game, going on to win by a score of 38-28.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Trojans were in command of the game, and they would put the final nail in the coffin with a Nickell Robey pick-six with 9:30 remaining.
The slow start was concerning, but well before the final whistle, it was clear USC was the better team on Thursday night. With the win, the Trojans improve to 4-1 (2-1) on the season.
Here are the postgame grades for each positional unit on the Trojans.
Matt Barkley was marvelous all night long in Salt Lake City.
The senior quarterback went 23-of-30 for 303 yards and three touchdowns, and helped lead his team out of an early two-touchdown hole.
This is the Matt Barkley folks have been waiting for after struggling through his first two Pac-12 contests. His favorite target all night long was Marqise Lee, and he would have had well over 300 passing yards if Lee hadn't let a pass bounce off his hands late in the fourth quarter.
Nevertheless, Barkley made nearly every throw and was as efficient as can be. We'll see if he can keep up this pace moving forward in his quest to take home the Heisman, and his team's quest to reach a BCS bowl.
Running Backs: B
Early on, the USC running game was an important aspect of the offensive, but eventually, the reigns were handed over to Barkley.
Still, Penn State transfer Silas Redd was effective, rushing 18 times for 77 yards and a touchdown. He would exit the game in the fourth quarter after sustaining a minor injury.
DJ Morgan picked up where Redd left off and compiled 46 yards on nine carries. Overall, the running game kept things moving forward and helped move the chains. A sustained running attack allowed Barkley to let loose and forced the Utah defense to respect the ground game.
Wide Receivers: A-
If it hadn’t been for a late drop on a deep ball from Barkley, wide receiver Marqise Lee would have had a 250-plus yard performance. Instead, he had to settle for 12 receptions for 192 yards and a touchdown.
I think he'll take it.
Along with Lee’s incredible performance on the gridiron, Robert Woods tallied six receptions for 69 yards and a score of his own. Lee and Woods were the only true threats in the passing game, but when you have two receivers with such a high level of talent, that’s really all you need.
Lee's elusiveness in the open field allowed him to pick up extra yards and keep drives going, and he has really emerged as the No. 1 option in the USC passing attack.
Tight Ends: C+
Xavier Grimble had a bonehead personal foul penalty and flat out dropped a touchdown pass on beautiful throw from Barkley, putting a black eye on an otherwise masterful performance from the USC offense.
On a positive note, Randall Telfer hauled in a beautiful one-handed catch in the end zone to help swing momentum and pull the Trojans within four in the second quarter.
The two only received four targets, but they were the only ones to record receptions other than the two standout Trojan receivers and fullback Soma Vainuku.
Couple that with solid blocking that resulted in an effective run game, and it was an above average performance from the USC tight ends.
Offensive Line: C
USC center Khaled Holmes entered the game with a bad ankle, and it showed when he had a poor snap that led to a Utah fumble returned for a touchdown. He followed that up by snapping the ball too early on the next possession, also resulting in a USC turnover and a quick Utah score.
All of a sudden, the Trojans were down by 14 in the first three minutes of play.
However, the line adjusted to the presence of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei after the first quarter, and success was the result. Still, this unit had far too many penalties and held the Trojans from breaking the game open until late.
When the line wasn't committing penalties or mental mistakes, it provided solid protection for Barkley and opened up running lanes for the backs. Eliminate the blunders, and USC's O-line should be alright moving forward.
Defensive Line: A-
The most notable play from the defensive line came from end Morgan Breslin, who hit Utes’ quarterback Jon Hayes as he released the football on Nickell Robey’s pick-six. Fellow defensive end Wes Horton had a sack late in the game as well, as the Trojans were a force against Utah's O-line on the outside.
Breslin also recovered a fumble in the second quarter in Utah territory, leading to the Trojans' go-ahead touchdown.
Breslin and the entire line provided great pressure in the second half overall after struggling to do so in the first half of play. It also performed much better against the run in the final two quarters and helped hold the Utes to under five yards a carry.
The Trojans' D-line is undermanned due to injury, but it was difficult to tell Thursday night based on the way it played.
The linebacker corps was also a factor in the defensive turnaround in the second half, helping to stagnate the Utes' running game and providing adequate coverage when Utah was forced into a passing situation.
The first half was a different story, especially when dropping back to cover, but the adjustments made at halftime proved to make a difference, and the USC defense was big when it needed to be.
Defensive Backs: B+
After struggling in the first half and allowing a couple of touchdown passes through the air, the USC secondary was suffocating in the second half.
With the Trojans up 31-21 in the fourth quarter, cornerback Nickell Robey jumped a route and intercepted Utah quarterback Jon Hays, taking it to the house for a pick-six.
Even without Robey putting the finishing touches on the USC victory, the secondary put together a plus performance even though it was caught off-guard in the first half on a few different occasions. To be fair, the first touchdown allowed likely should have been overturned.
Special Teams: D
The USC special teams unit got off on the right foot, with a 22-yard punt return from Robey to jump-start a drive and set up an Andre Heidari 32-yard field goal. Kyle Negrete also booted a 54-yard punt early on to pin the Utes deep.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.
Heidari missed his next two attempts (33, 44), which allowed Utah to remain within striking distance. Couple that with a lackluster return game, and the Trojans' special teams didn't do much to contribute to this victory.
It was pretty evident that head coach Lane Kiffin didn't have his team ready to go heading into his team's clash with Utah.
Faster than a blink of an eye, the Utes were up 14-0 and the Trojans were in an unfamiliar position.
Thankfully, Kiffin has Matt Barkley as his quarterback, and the senior's composure calmed the offense, allowing the Trojans to crawl back into the game and eventually take a commanding lead.
A lot of the credit has to go to Kiffin and his coaching staff for making the necessary adjustments at halftime, as USC looked like a completely different team in the second half, especially on defense.
Holding, false start and personal foul penalties seemed to be at a premium, however, and some of the blame has to go to the coaching staff for not having a disciplined squad. But the fourth quarter was relatively mistake-free, and the game plan was spot on, so it was an overall positive effort from Kiffin and his gang.
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