LOS ANGELES — When it came to finding positives after Saturday’s 19-3 loss at USC, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham didn’t have a lot to choose from. The Utes, he noted, played really well on defense.
“That’s about it. That’s where it stops,” Whittingham said. “We struggled on ‘O’ obviously.”
Utah (4-4 overall, 1-4 in Pac-12 play) managed just 201 yards of total offense and turned the ball over four times in the setback, all in the first half. The Utes failed to score a touchdown for the first time since a 26-3 loss to Boise State in the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl.
“We’ve got to do some soul searching offensively,” said Whittingham, who added that the coaching staff will need to figure out the deficiencies and get them corrected. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve got really no throw game right now. The run game wasn’t a whole lot better.”
The turnovers, he continued, are really what has led to the team’s demise in its four losses this season.
Starting quarterback Travis Wilson threw two interceptions, upping his total to 14 on the year and 13 over the Utes’ four Pac-12 setbacks. The sophomore, who played with a protective glove over a sprained index finger on his throwing hand, completed 5 of 14 passes for 51 yards.
Wilson told reporters everything was good as far as the injury goes.
“I thought I was throwing well all week, but I just wasn’t making throws today,” he said. “I definitely put this whole game on myself.”
Backup Adam Schulz saw extensive action, completing 7 of 17 throws for 79 yards with one interception.
The Utes managed just 13 first downs in the game and a paltry 2.9 yards per play.
“A lot of it’s on our shoulders,” Schulz said. “If we don’t perform well then the offense can’t operate.”
USC’s defense had a lot to do with it. The Trojans entered the game with the Pac-12’s top-ranked unit and wound up sacking the quarterbacks six times.
“They had a lot to do with our deficiencies,” Whittingham said. “I’m not trying to paint the picture that they shouldn’t get any credit because they should get a ton of credit. They’re the ones that took the football away. They’re the ones that made things happen with their defense.”
Things started off well for the Utes. They scored on their first drive and ended a three-game run of allowing the opposition to do so.
A 42-yard field goal by Andy Phillips gave Utah an early 3-0 advantage. It capped a 10-play sequence that included a 25-yard run by Wilson on third-and-6 along the way.
USC’s initial possession followed and consisted of three plays, a yard and a punt. The stop was Utah’s first on an opening drive since the BYU game on Sept. 21. UCLA, Stanford and Arizona all put opening-series touchdowns on the board against the Utes in the games that followed.
The satisfaction, though, proved to be somewhat fleeting — thanks to a barrage of turnovers that followed over the balance of the half. Three interceptions and a fumble by Utah led to scores for USC.
The takeaways allowed the Trojans to build a 16-3 halftime lead. They pulled ahead late in the first quarter when Cody Kessler teamed with Nelson Agholor on a 30-yard scoring strike. The touchdown was set up six plays earlier when cornerback Josh Shaw intercepted a pass from Wilson that bounced off the hand of Utah receiver Dres Anderson.
Trailing 7-3, the Utes quickly turned it over once again. On the second play of the ensuing possession, Wilson had the ball jarred loose while being sacked by linebacker Jabari Ruffin. Teammate Anthony Sarao recovered it for the Trojans on the Utah 19 as time expired in the opening quarter.
Less than 90 seconds later, kicker Andre Heidari made a 35-yard field goal to make it 10-3.
Utah responded with a 13-play drive, but failed to convert on fourth-and-1 from the USC 11 when Anderson was stopped on a rush for no gain.
After forcing the Trojans to punt on the drive that followed, the Utes once again fell victim to a miscue. A Wilson pass intended for Geoffrey Norwood was intercepted by safety Leon McQuay III near midfield. With 23 seconds to go in the half, Heidari increased USC’s lead with a 38-yard field goal.
The 13-3 score, though, lacked staying power. Wilson was replaced by Schulz, who was picked off on first down by USC safety Su’a Cravens. The freshman returned it 54 yards to the Utah 9 to set up another kick by Heidari with four seconds remaining in the second quarter. He connected on a 28-yarder as time expired to close out the half.
Heidari added a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter to bump the Trojans’ comfort zone up to the game's final margin at 19-3.
USC (5-3, 2-2) prevailed despite amassing just 260 yards of total offense and 14 first downs. Utah’s defense recorded five sacks, but failed to record any takeaways.
“I don’t really think so much about our turnovers,” said defensive end Trevor Reilly, who finished with a team-high 11 tackles. “I think about our lack of causing turnovers. We didn’t do a good enough job. That could have been a difference in the game.”
Utah has a bye next week and then plays host to Arizona State on Nov. 9.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company