Analysis: Utah 24, USC 21

    E-mail Rich Cirminiello Follow me … @RichCirminiello  Utah at Arizona State next weekend just got a whole lot more compelling. This wasn’t just big for

    October 26, 2014

    E-mail Rich Cirminiello 
    Follow me … @RichCirminiello 

    Utah at Arizona State next weekend just got a whole lot more compelling. 

    This wasn’t just big for the Utes. This comeback over USC was the program’s biggest win since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. It’s no secret that Utah has struggled to gain traction after leaving the Mountain West for a marked step up in weight class. It hasn’t bowled the past two seasons, and it’s yet to finish above .500 in league play. But rallying in the final minutes to knock off one of the league’s signature programs provides the Utes with much-needed validation, especially with a wicked upcoming stretch of games against the Sun Devils, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona. 

    It’s hard not to feel good for Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and QB Travis Wilson, who’ve each authored their own unique comebacks through the first seven games of 2014. For Whittingham, an improbable 6-1 start should begin restoring the reputation of a coach who’s needed a few years to get his team ready to compete, week-in and week-out, in the Pac-12. And for Wilson, who threw the game-winning touchdown pass, tonight was a sweet reward for making it all the way back from a 2013 head injury that nearly ended his career. 

    Utah needed this game in the worst possible way. The Utes still probably aren’t winning the South, because the November slate is littered with so many landmines. But by beating the Trojans, and achieving bowl-eligibility so early, the team will play the rest of the season with a ton more confidence than if that final dive came up empty. 

    By Phil Harrison
    Follow me @PhilHarrisonCFN

    This isn’t your Pete Carroll’s Trojans.

    Truth be know, that’s not entirely fair to new head coach Steve Sarkisian who is still dealing with the combination of the program coming out of an NCAA coma, and the leftovers from the wacky Lane Kiffin era. But there seems to be a real culture problem of being able to finish games. USC has now lost three games, but all were less than a touchdown (13 combined points) and could have easily been winning results. 

    History says that Southern California will get back to an elite level, but with UCLA starting to pull more recruits and becoming the “it” program in the area, a quick rebound isn’t a foregone conclusion. Either way, it’s more fun with both being relevant in Los Angeles, and that seems to be where things are at.

    But what about the Utah program? How many times have we been proven wrong by teams’ competitive fortitude when joining a new league? Much like Missouri and Texas A&M with the SEC, many felt that the Utes would struggle once they began facing off with the glitz and power of the Pac-12. Instead, much like their SEC counterparts, they’ve more than held their own.

    What we see going on in Provo can also remind you of what’s going on in Manhattan, Kansas. Much like Kansas State, the Utah coaching staff is using sound and fundamental play in all phases of the game to gut out victories.

    Utah is on the outside looking in right now in the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but there are plenty of opportunities to elbow its way into the fray with games against Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona still go go. 

    Make it through that gauntlet unscathed and it’ll be more than enough to impress the committee holding all the cards.

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