USC might have saved its season with a defensive stand on Utah's two-point try with less than a minute remaining in their 28-27 win over the Utes.
The Trojans defense has been impacted by injuries and managed attrition through a schedule that has no bye weeks until late November. That defense showed up in a big way during the second half, getting stops while the offense worked its way into top form.
The go-ahead touchdown might have been the highlight of the night. Ronald Jones II was a huge part of two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter and his acrobatic flip on the score.
Flipping out over @ronaldjones25 game-winning touchdown and the @OpusBank#12Best Moment! #Pac12FBpic.twitter.com/OQUmG7xL6a— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) October 15, 2017
Utah put together the perfect four-minute drive over 11 plays for a touchdown. Troy Williams had confidence and the Utes were surging, but USC's defense stepped up for one last stop on Kyle Whittingham's two-point gamble.
Guts but no glory for Utah.— ESPN (@espn) October 15, 2017
The Utes go for 2 and the win in the final minute, but are denied by No. 13 USC. pic.twitter.com/3TqeKuhJfX
Here are three things to know about the win.
1. Utah's defense was gassed at the end of the game: USC leaned on Utah throughout the second half, and the toll that touchdown drives of 98, 88 and 93 yards took had to play a role in the decision to go for two instead of tying the game with an extra point. Utah has one of the best run defenses in the Pac-12, but long stretches of time on the field created cracks later in the game that were exploited by USC's rushing attack. USC won the game officially with a two-point stand, but it flipped the leverage when Sam Darnold and the USC offense got on the same page in the second half.
2. Utah's Pac-12 South run took a big hit, and that's great for USC: Since joining the Pac-12, the Utes have been one of the tougher outs for USC in division play, and USC's path back to playoff contention starts with winning the division and playing for the conference title. Utah, like USC, came into the game with one conference loss to a team from the Pac-12 North. Saturday's game decided a crucial head-to-head advantage in the standings and delivered a big hit to Utah's run at winning the Pac-12 South.
3. USC's ground game is the soul of the offense: When Sam Darnold is in the zone and in rhythm with USC's wide receivers, it's easy to see why the NFL Draft scene is drooling about his potential. But that group sputters sometimes, and the Trojans have to rely on the ground game for large chunks of yards during key moments of close games. Ronald Jones II is a proven hard runner with great vision, and freshman Vavae Malepeai has been huge in two games of increased action with Stephen Carr hurt. While there's a future NFL quarterback under center, the soul of USC, and the part of their game that has been the most consistent, is running the dang ball.