The Utah crowd was singing “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled, the USC band was tearfully blowing “Tribute To Troy” into their trumpets, and I was speechless. For the first time in a long time, Utah won a game by throwing the football. Not only that, but it was against a defensive secondary that features three future 1st/2nd round draft picks. Utah needed to play its best game of the year. While there were plenty of mistakes, the Utes pulled it together in the 2nd half to send the USC Trojans home with a 1-3 record and a very hot seat for Clay Helton.
Troy Williams’ progression as a PAC-12 level QB continued on its upward trajectory with 21-34 passing for 270 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions against a very talented USC secondary. Most notably, Troy led the Utes on a 94-yard drive to win the game by throwing the football into tight windows and taking risks. The significance of that final drive can not be overstated. Utah hasn’t had a consistent, significant threat in the passing game possibly since the 2008 Utah team that beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
As the Utah passing attack continues to grow, that makes Utah even more dangerous to the rest of the PAC-12. A dominant defense matched with a potent offense could set the scene for a very special season. But the biggest question going forward is whether or not Utah can be consistent in the passing game. Former Utah QB Travis Wilson showed flashes in the passing game, but never was consistent enough to make it a real threat game after game. If the “throw game”, as Kyle Whittingham calls it, continues its success, then the Utes may be enjoying something even sweeter than Sugar this winter.
The Utah defense faced plenty of adversity against USC, and in the end overcame it. USC’s offensive line may be the most talented offensive line in the country and they showed that talent last Friday night. When Lowell Lotulelei (DT) went down in the 2nd quarter with a shoulder injury, that is when the Utah defensive line really struggled in the trenches. Pasoni Tasini (DT) stepped up for Utah in a big way to fill the huge hole from Lotulelei. The amount of depth Utah has on the defensive line is remarkable. Especially since Utah was down two future NFL draft picks in Lowell Lotulelei and Kylie Fitts (DE) and still managed to pressure the quarterback in the 2nd half.
Utah also showed its versatility on defense. Utah moved the defensive tackles and defensive ends periodically out to the linebacker position, which through off USC freshman Sam Darnold (QB). In the 2nd half, Darnold struggled to pick up on the different variations of the position switches pre-snap which shut down the short passing game as well as the running game for USC. Utah simple out coached USC on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the 2nd half. Kyle Whittingham and Morgan Scalley (DC) deserve a lot of praise for putting their players in a position to make plays and get Utah back in the ball game.
OFFENSIVE PLAY CALLING
The offensive coordinator for most football teams is the most criticized coaching position. It is easy to hindsight judge the results of each and every play call that the offensive coordinator makes. With that said, when you look at the game in its entirety I thought Aaron Roderick (OC) called a masterful game.
The offensive play calling for Utah started with almost exclusively running the football. This strategy was clearly to expose the USC defensive line, which is less talented than the USC secondary. I’m there was also motivation from the Utah offensive line to run the ball straight at former Utah player Stevie Tui’kolovatu. Utah was very successful with running the ball in the 1st quarter until USC made defensive adjustments. USC started to load the box and spy the running back with a linebacker. My one criticism on the play calling was the Utah could have made offensive adjustments earlier than the 2nd half, as USC exploited the lack of balance on offense in the 2nd quarter.
In the 2nd half, Utah started to sprinkle in the passing game, which was immediately effective since USC was still stacking the box. Utah progressively passed the ball more and the USC defense struggled to make adjustments post halftime. By the end of the game, Utah was almost exclusively passing the ball, which was nearly opposite to how they started the game. USC was clearly off balance by the gradual shift in play calling from running the ball to passing the ball. Utah finished the game with 47 rushes and 34 passes, which is fairly balanced. Overall, Aaron Roderick called a masterful game of balance and unpredictability.
USC is and always will be one of the most talented teams in the country. Any time Utah beats USC is a major accomplishment of execution over talent. Utah showed me for the first time since joining the PAC-12 that they are willing to throw the football and takes aggressive chances through the air to win football games. Troy Williams played his best game of the year, and it has Utah fans everywhere drooling for more #ThrowGame.
Grade = B+