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Pac-12 title game: USC steamrolled by Utah in loss that could cost Trojans CFP berth

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USC’s college football playoff dreams may have gone up in flames Friday night in Las Vegas.

The fourth-place Trojans would almost certainly earn a spot in a four-team playoff by defeating the 11th Utah team in the Pac-12 title game. But the Jutes had other ideas.

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Utah overcame an early 14-point deficit and came back to win 47-24 for their second straight Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl berth.

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A two-loss team has never made the college football playoffs, so a loss to USC could open the door for No. 5 Ohio State to slip into a field of four.

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It was a stunning turn of events after a brilliant start by Caleb Williams and an attack by USC. Williams, a Heisman Trophy favorite, was on fire before an early hamstring injury limited his mobility. He added to his Heisman drum in the first quarter with a beautiful deep ball on the move to Taj Washington and a special 59-yard scrimmage.

Williams was in full command, and USC appeared to be well on its way to both a conference title and a chance at a national championship.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams (13) is tackled by Utah defensemen R.J. Hubert (11) and Cole Bishop (8) during a Pac-12 championship game on Friday, December 2, 2022 in Las Vegas.  (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)
USC quarterback Caleb Williams (13) is tackled by Utah defensemen R.J. Hubert (11) and Cole Bishop (8) during a Pac-12 championship game on Friday, December 2, 2022 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

But Utah managed to weather the USC flurry and get back in the game.

Utah scored twice in the last four minutes of the second quarter, turning USC’s 17-3 lead into a halftime tie.

During exciting first quarterAccording to USC coach Lincoln Riley, Williams suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to lose less than 50%.

This went unnoticed on the air, but Williams’ pocket mobility became more and more limited as the half went on. And when the second half began, Williams could barely move.

With no threat to use his legs—whether it be climbing, expanding play, or scoring a critical yard with scheduled runs—Williams was a sitting duck. Utah’s defense worked.

USC hit three balls from the first three possessions in the second half, with Utah taking the lead due to a much-maligned USC defense oversight.

On the third and 19th play, Cam Rising hit Money Parks for a 57-yard touchdown in a game that saw the USC defense miss several times.

This will not be the only show of lackluster fighting from the USC.

After Utah extended their lead to 10 points, 27–17, in the first game of the fourth quarter, Williams threw a daring 75-yard touchdown to make Utah lead just 27–24 with 10:52 to go.

Just when the tide seemed to be turning in USC’s favour, the defense couldn’t even put up a semblance of resistance.

Just 44 seconds later, Cam Rising hit tight end Thomas Yassmin on a play pass. The 251-pound Yasmin easily avoided a one-handed tackle and then fought his way through Cullen Bullock into the end zone. This 60-yard touchdown returned Utah’s lead to 10 points, 34–24, with 10:08 left in the game.

In the subsequent run, Williams made another incredible play, breaking out and finding Jordan Addison deep in the game with a fourth error. But after two performances, he made a critical mistake. Williams looked down the receiver, and R.J. Hubert of Utah read it all the way through to make a grueling interception in the red.

Three plays after the interception, Utah’s Ja’Quinden Jackson put the final nail in the coffin with a 53-yard electric touchdown to put Utah’s lead to 40-24 with 5:29 to play.

Williams and the USC offense throughout the year made up for the lack of a weak defense. And that night, the defense was completely unable to repay the same.

By the time the dust had settled, Utah had amassed 533 offensive yards, including 223 on the ground and a stellar 310-yard play with three touchdowns off quarterback Cam Rising.

Williams finished the night with 363 yards and three touchdowns, most of which came in one leg. It’s not a performance that should detract from his Heisman candidacy, but an individual award will likely be the furthest thing from Williams’ thoughts if the Trojans end up falling out of the top four on Sunday.


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