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USC Upsets No. 10 Utah as QB Matt Fink Shines in Relief of Injured Kedon Slovis

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorSeptember 21, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 20: Quarterback Matt Fink #19 of the USC Trojans looks to pass against the Utah Utes in the first quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 20, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

The USC Trojans won their second game against a Top 25 opponent this year after shocking No. 10 Utah 30-23 on Friday in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

USC quarterback Matt Fink, who began 2019 as the third-stringer on the Trojans' depth chart, led his team to victory after Kedon Slovis suffered an undisclosed first-quarter injury and did not return.

The Trojans, who moved to 3-1, have somehow persevered since starting quarterback JT Daniels suffered a season-ending torn ACL and meniscus against Fresno State in Week 1.

Outside of a 30-27 loss to BYU, the Trojans racked up a 31-23 victory versus Fresno State and a 45-20 win over No. 23 Stanford.

As for the 3-1 Utes, the result is undoubtedly disappointing given their strong start to the season and their status as the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12. The season is certainly not over with at least eight games remaining, however.

              

Notable Performers

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  • USC QB Matt Fink: 21-of-30 for 351 yards, three touchdowns and one interception
  • USC WR Michael Pittman Jr.: 10 catches, 232 yards and one touchdown
  • USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: 5 catches, 68 yards and one touchdown
  • USC WR Tyler Vaughns: 4 catches, 49 yards and one touchdown
  • Utah QB Tyler Huntley: 22-of-30 for 210 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions; 18 carries, 60 rushing yards
  • Utah RB Devonta'e Henry-Cole: 4 carries, 31 rushing yards; 1 catch, 8 receiving yards and one touchdown
  • Utah TE Cole Fotheringham: 3 catches, 23 yards and one touchdown

       

Matt Fink Finds a Way

Fink was thrust into the spotlight after Slovis landed hard following a first-quarter hit from Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu.

Remarkably, Fink had no trouble dissecting the Utah defense with explosive plays, tossing touchdown passes of 29, 31 and 77 yards, the latter of which went to a phenomenal Michael Pittman Jr.

FOX College Football @CFBONFOX

4/5 and a 29-yard passing TD Third-string QB @FinkMattfink needed no time to warm up after stepping in for Kedon Slovis 🔥✌️ https://t.co/9CrFqKVFbQ

FOX College Football @CFBONFOX

HOW?! 😱 @USC_FB QB Matt Fink miraculously escapes from a sure sack and throws for his second TD of the game! https://t.co/Qj9uEvqmJJ

FOX College Football @CFBONFOX

Go up and get it big fella! @MikePitt_Jr catches a 78-yard TD for @USC_Athletics 👏👏 https://t.co/fYOYbonQT6

Fink's chemistry with Pittman showcased itself all night. Ryan Young of Rivals referenced their on-field success and off-field friendship:

Ryan Young @RyanYoungRivals

Michael Pittman is one of Matt Fink's closer friends on the team and was a big supporter of his during his transfer portal process. They have had some nice connections tonight. I'm thinking, though, that just throwing the ball up to Pittman should be a go-to play call.

USC almost didn't have the luxury of turning to Fink, as he entered the NCAA transfer portal and nearly left for Illinois in May before changing his mind in June.

A few months makes a world of difference, as Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com pointed out:

Ryan Abraham @insidetroy

A few months ago Matt Fink was in the transfer portal. Now he is 8 of 9 for 138 yards and 2 TDs in the 1st quarter against the No. 10 team in the country.

Others were left quite impressed with Fink's work:

Antwan V. Staley @antwanstaley

Matt Fink is the third string QB? He is better than a lot of teams first string QBs

Eduardo M. Gonzalez @edmgonzalez

If you don't know who Matt Fink is ladies and gentleman, tonight is the night to

Pat Forde @YahooForde

Matt Fink having his star turn. And, by extension, so is Graham Harrell.

Fink may have gotten a little lucky at times, as a few long-ball prayers in contested coverage were answered. Of note, the signal-caller was picked once on an underthrown pass.

However, Fink just led the Trojans to 30 points against the nation's No. 10 team, which had allowed just 29 points in its first three games. If Fink is the starter next week, that bodes well for USC as it looks to continue its momentum.

               

Utah's Vaunted Defense Comes Up Small

As good as Fink was Friday, Utah's pass defense was particularly puzzling.

Utah finished with the No. 17 scoring defense in Division I FBS last year and entered Friday with the No. 6 scoring defense this year. The Utes' pass defense also entered the season with high expectations, as Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel tweeted:

Stewart Mandel @slmandel

This has been a rough, rough night for a Utah secondary where both corners (Blackmon and Johnson) were first team preseason All-Pac-12.

However, the Utes gave up more than 300 passing yards after Fink found Pittman for a 77-yard score just 5:06 into the third quarter.

Fink and Slovis combined to complete 71.9 percent of their passes for 11.5 yards per attempt. Explosive plays significantly hindered the Utah defense, as it allowed completions of 29 or more yards to three different USC receivers.

Numerous analysts noted Utah's pass defense issues:

John Middlekauff @JohnMiddlekauff

Utah DBs keep freezing when the ball gets close. It’s wild to watch. Not normal for that program. These guys are usually well coached - they look lost rn

Ben Kercheval @BenKercheval

Graham Harrell runs the "500" version of the Air Raid* *ONLY 90s KIDS WILL UNDERSTAND

Ben Kercheval @BenKercheval

This isn't a dig at Fink but I think this is why USC tried that fade on third-and-1. Harrell is just telling Fink to throw it up there it doesn't matter how long it takes b/c the WRs are going to come down with it. Utah's DBs are getting embarrassed.

Dan Greenspan @DanGreenspan

Every time USC tries to run the ball is a wasted play. Going straight into teeth of Utah’s defense instead of attacking secondary is w mistake.

Perhaps Friday evening was an anomaly, but Utah will need to shore up the back end if it is to contend for the Pac-12 crown this season.

               

What's Next?

The Trojans will look to knock off another ranked conference opponent next Saturday when they travel to face No. 22 Washington in Seattle. A road date with No. 7 Notre Dame then looms on Oct. 12 after a bye week.

The Utes will continue their Pac-12 schedule by welcoming No. 19 Washington State to Salt Lake City next Saturday.

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