Matt Barkley, USC recover from rough start to beat Utah
SALT LAKE CITY -- All-American wide receiver Robert Woods was face down on the giant red "U" in the middle of the field Thursday night, dazed by a wicked shot.
The scene was indicative of the Trojans as a whole after blunders left No. 13 Southern California down two touchdowns early and Utah smelling upset.
Woods righted himself, and so did the rest of the USC offense, with quarterback Matt Barkley showing why he was a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy before the season started.
Barkley led the Trojans to 28 straight points, passing for 303 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-28 victory.
"That was a real low point to give the other team 14 points to start the game, but our team bounced back," said Barkley, who finished 23-of-30. "We didn't let that ruin our night."
Instead the Trojans ruined one of the biggest games in Utah history -- it was USC's first trip to Salt Lake City in 95 years.
"We wanted to come out fast and we did that," said Utah wide receiver Kenneth Scott, who caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jon Hays and had a 44-yarder nullified by penalty in the second quarter. "Now we just have to finish."
That the Trojans (4-1, 2-1) showed they know how to do, scoring twice in a span of less than 3 minutes in the fourth quarter to turn a 3-point game into another victory.
Leading 24-21, Barkley tossed an 83-yard TD pass to Marqise Lee to bump USC's lead to 10 points. Less than 3 minutes later, cornerback Nickell Robey intercepted a pass by Hays and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.
"The D-line disrupted the play," Robey said of a pass Hays overthrew. "I read it. I just broke on the ball and stepped in and caught it."
That might well have been what a frenzied crowd of 46,037 thought when Utah (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12) forced turnovers 1 minute, 16 seconds apart to open the game, both involving Rimington Award candidate Khaled Holmes.
Just 47 seconds in, Nate Fakahafua scored from 8 yards out after stripping the ball from Barkley following a bad snap by Holmes. On the second play of USC's second series, reigning Pac-12 defensive lineman of the year Star Lotulelei bulldozed Holmes as he snapped the ball and pounced on the fumble with 12:57 left in the first. Hays' 11-yard TD pass to Scott put Utah up 14-0.
Holmes apologized in front of the team before coach Lane Kiffin could even start his postgame chat. "He was a man to do that and played great the rest of the game," Kiffin said.
Kiffin also was pleased with the way his staff hung in there.
"I felt we did a lot better job as a staff today handling negative plays than we did the last time on the road," Kiffin said, referring to a 21-14 loss to Stanford on Sept. 15.
"I think we did a very good job of that, not panicking, staying with the run game even though we were down. Much like last year, after our first bad road trip, we started playing a lot better, so hopefully that's the case."
Before the season, Thursday's game was being touted as a possible showdown for the Pac-12 South title. But then Stanford upset then-No. 2-ranked USC, and Utah lost by 30 to Arizona State the following week.
While the Utes are headed to the South basement, the Trojans continue to work their way back to the top of a league with six Pac-12 teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
It helps having Barkley, who stayed calm Thursday after the rough start.
He drove the Trojans 75 yards in eight plays, capped by Silas Redd's 3-yard run, to pull USC within 14-7 midway through the first quarter.
After Hays' 18-yard TD pass to DeVonte Christopher bumped Utah's lead to 21-10 with 8:54 left in the half, Barkley countered a minute later with a three-play, 74-yard TD drive, passing 41 yards to Woods and capping it with a 23-yard strike to tight end Randall Telfer that pulled USC within 21-17.
Barkley gave USC its first lead with 4:38 left in the half on a 6-yard TD pass to Woods on third-and-goal from the 6.
Lee finished with 12 catches for 192 yards, and Woods had six catches for 69 yards.
"Those are unselfish guys," Kiffin said of Lee and Woods.
Lee spun himself silly going for extra yards after the catch.
Woods, meanwhile, was dazed from a block he made on a punt return.
"I don't want Robert to hit like he did on the punt return," Kiffin said. "He could have just high-screened him, but he's so competitive you can't slow him down in a situation like that.
"He came right back in that quick. Many guys are going to stay out for a while but he's a dynamic competitor."
2022 Pac-12 Conference Standings