USC Blocks Last-Second Field Goal, Wins Inaugural Pac-12 Game 23-14
Sept. 10, 2011
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Just in case anybody still wondered, Utah left no doubt it belongs in the same league and on the same field with once-mighty Southern California.
The Utes just couldn't quite leave that Coliseum field with a win in the first game in Pac-12 history.
Matt Kalil blocked Utah's 41-yard field goal attempt on the wacky final play and Torin Harris returned it for a touchdown that wasn't counted until two hours after the game ended in Southern California's 23-14 victory Saturday night in the first game in Pac-12 history.
"It's never fun to lose that way," said Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, who passed for 238 yards and a touchdown. "We gave ourselves a chance. We drove down there. I thought we were going to play some more football, but it didn't work out that way."
Matt Barkley passed for 264 yards and USC barely held off the upstart Utes in the league's dramatic debut.
The conference's newest member easily held its own against the winningest program in league history, forcing three key turnovers and getting an impressive 11-catch game from DeVonte Christopher. But the Utes (1-1, 0-1) never took the lead and never scored in the fourth quarter.
With a large cheering section of crimson-clad fans, Utah drove from its own 33 into field-goal range in the final 1:01 - but Coleman Petersen's kick hit Kalil's forearm.
Harris returned the ball into the Utah end zone, but the score was initially waved off by an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty when much of the USC bench ran onto the field to celebrate.
Two hours later, long after the Coliseum had emptied, Pac-12 officials announced that Harris had scored after all.
"It was baptism by fire," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We stayed toe-to-toe, but we have to find a way to win close games. ... If you have a group of competitive guys, you want to play the best in the country. Personnel-wise, USC stacks up with anyone in the country."
Perhaps so do the Utes, who shut out the Trojans for the final 24 minutes - other than the crazy kick return on the last play.
Marc Tyler rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown in his return from suspension and Robert Woods had eight catches for 102 yards as the Trojans (2-0, 1-0) opened their new conference schedule with a tenacious defensive performance against their new division rivals.
"I was trying to follow what was going on with the refs, but we had so many chances to put that game away," said Barkley, who went 20 for 32. "The defense won this game for us, no doubt about it."
Neither team was particularly impressive offensively in the second half, with nobody scoring at all in the final 21 minutes. Barkley threw a 9-yard scoring pass to Xavier Grimble, but the Trojans also committed two turnovers deep in Utah territory in the first half.
After Wynn threw three incompletions on Utah's final drive, USC thought it had won when Harris tackled Christopher inches shy of the first-down marker with 20 seconds left. But after video review, officials changed the spot and gave a first down to Utah.
Tony Burnett then committed pass interference with 11 seconds left, moving Utah to the Trojans 24. The Utes immediately got their field-goal team on the field, but Kalil's block went straight to Harris, whose return set off a huge celebration in the Coliseum end zone, with USC students pouring out of the stands to join the players.
"It did kind of seem like forever," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "You kept hoping for a play that would end the game. ... I thought our guys came out good again. We're there. We're playing really well in all phases of the game. We're just not putting people away."
Christopher had 11 catches for 136 yards and a score for the Utes, who hadn't played USC in the Coliseum since 1948. South Los Angeles native John White rushed for a score for the Utes, but they struggled to move the ball consistently all day.
Tyler returned to the USC lineup after missing the season opener under team suspension for a series of misdeeds culminating in an ill-advised appearance on TMZ. The Trojans' leading rusher last season was allowed to return to practice late last month, and he ran with obvious urgency in his return, getting 24 carries.
"This is something I've dreamed about doing since I got in trouble, just coming back and being a big impact to the fans and my teammates," Tyler said.
USC kicker Andre Heidari scored the first points in Pac-12 history on a 47-yard field goal, and Tyler scored the first touchdown late in the first quarter on a short drive set up by White's fumble.
After USC freshman D.J. Morgan fumbled, Utah finally solved USC's defense with a 12-play, 84-yard drive culminating in Wynn's 10-yard TD pass to Christopher with 34 seconds left.
USC scored its final points on an 88-yard drive shortly after halftime featuring three big receptions by Grimble, the freshman tight end from Las Vegas. One play before Grimble's 9-yard TD catch, the Utes committed two penalties against Woods on the same play, determined to disrupt USC's top playmaker after his school-record 17 catches last week.