When USC and Utah met earlier this year, it was a classic, with the Utes winning on a last-minute two-point conversion.
On Friday, it was the same end result, confirming the Utes simply have it out for the Trojans this year.
The 11th-ranked Utes took down No. 4 USC, 47-24, in the Pac-12 Championship at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
USC’s loss will likely knock them out of the College Football Playoff depending on the results of two conference championship games this weekend.
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The Trojans came out of the gates firing, and Heisman favorite Caleb Williams did what Caleb Williams does. On back-to-back plays, he found Tahj Washington for 50 yards and then a two-yard score, putting USC up 7-0 early. The Utes answered with a field goal, but USC answered right back with another touchdown, this one by Raleek Brown for three yards with the benefit of a 59-yard rush for Williams on the second play of the drive. USC forced a three-and-out and kicked a field goal at the beginning of the second quarter.
USC then recovered a Utah fumble, but turned the ball over on downs, which was a slight momentum shift for the Utes. They responded with an 11-play, 63-yard drive that ended in an eight-yard rushing touchdown for Ja’Quinen Jackson, making it a seven-point game with 3:55 to go in the second. The Utes forced the Trojans to punt, and they were able to manage a two-minute-drill drive that ended in Cameron Rising finding Jaylen Dixon for the game-tying touchdown with just two ticks on the clock in the half.
After Utah and USC exchanged punts to start the second half, the Utes had the biggest play of their season. On 3rd and 19 from their own 43, Rising hit Money Parks on a slant, and after he broke a tackle, he was off to the races and took it to the house, giving Utah a 24-17 lead after trailing by two touchdowns.
In the third quarter, cameras caught Williams limping along the sidelines, and although backup Miller Moss was seen throwing, he was out on the field for the Trojans’ third drive of the third quarter. He clearly was limited, as the Trojans had their third consecutive three-and-out to start the half after only 12 the entire season.
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The Utes got to USC’s 17-yard line and faced a 4th and 3 at the start of the fourth quarter, but they opted for the field goal to take a 10-point lead.
Williams ran for a first down on their ensuing drive, but he was still clearly uncomfortable, so he decided to get it done with his arm. He threw for 57 yards on the drive, and Mario Williams found the end zone to bring the Trojans within three with 10:52 to go.
No worries for the Utes though – tight end Thomas Yasmin muscled his way for a 60-yard touchdown to put Utah right back up by 10.
On their next drive, USC faced a 4th and 3 from their own 32 and left the offense on the field. Evading pressure and rolling out right, Williams launched one to a wide-open Jordan Addison for a 48-yard gain. But two plays later, Williams threw his fourth interception of the season at quite possibly the worst time.
The Utes took over at their own 39 with 6:57 to go. On 3rd and 2, Rising handed the ball off to Jackson, and he ran 53 yards for the score, putting Utah up 40-24 (the PAT missed after Utah was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct, backing them up). For good measure, Utah recovered a USC fumble and answered with a Micah Bernard touchdown for 23 yards.
With 12:08 left in the second quarter, the Utes were down 17-3. After that, they outscored USC 44-7.
Rising completed 22 of his 34 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns – Parks and Yassmin only had six catches between them, but they had 169 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Jackson finished with 105 rushing yards on 13 carries, two of them touchdowns.
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USC was the first team in, but their loss paves the way for No. 5 Ohio State to likely jump ahead and continue their season. It’s safe to say that the Trojans are going to be rooting for Purdue to take down No. 2 Michigan in the Big Ten Championship and/or No. 3 TCU to lose to No. 10 Kansas State in the Big 12 title game on Saturday.
Who knows, though, if the committee will leave them in with one, or even both, of them losing, as No. 6 Alabama also awaits.
As for Utah, the win likely will not be enough to put them in the CFP, but assuming they will be Pac-12 champions outside the playoff, they’ll be headed to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 and awaiting their Big 10 opponent.
And all USC can do is just sit back and hope.