LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bryson Barnes dropped back, stepped up through the Southern California rush and took off downfield. The Utah quarterback ducked, dodged and finally went down inside the USC 20 with 5 seconds to play, putting the Utes in perfect field position for the winning field goal.
Caleb Williams could only watch and admire while Utah’s third-string quarterback essentially ended the Heisman Trophy winner’s national championship dreams.
Cole Becker made a 38-yard field goal as time expired, and No. 14 Utah blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter before rallying for a thrilling 34-32 victory over No. 18 USC on Saturday night.
After Williams ran for an 11-yard touchdown with 1:46 left to punctuate a big comeback by the Trojans (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12), Barnes led Utah’s winning drive with that spectacular 26-yard scramble to get the Utes (6-1, 3-1) well into range for Becker’s winner. Utah wildly celebrated its narrow escape with its traveling fans at the Coliseum, where Williams and Lincoln Riley had never lost.
“We really took over there for a while, and we got a little soft at the end,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “But you know, they’ve got a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, so they’re going to make some things, and that’s just the way it is. But we’ve got ourselves a pig farmer at quarterback, and we’re proud of that guy, too. What a warrior he is.”
Indeed, Barnes — who famously grew up raising pigs in southern Utah — passed for a career-high 235 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another score. He also shook off a fourth-quarter pick-6 and led the Utes’ offense to a season-high 482 yards while they extended their winning streak over USC to four games.
“Bryson is gonna be Bryson,” said running back Ja’Quinden Jackson, who had 117 yards rushing. “He’s a competitor. He’s smart. We definitely believe in the guy.”
Two-way sensation Sione Vaki caught two touchdown passes and accounted for 217 total yards for the Utes, but they barely survived an impressive Trojans rally.
After Zachariah Branch’s 61-yard punt return set up Williams’ go-ahead TD run to put the Trojans in front 32-31, Utah mounted a drive that included Jackson’s fourth-and-1 conversion run to the USC 40. Barnes made the decisive scramble one play later.
“It was a good heavyweight battle,” said Riley, who is 17-5 at USC with three losses to Whittingham’s Utes. “Two good football teams going at it, and it came down to the last play. Locker room is pretty torn up right now, as it should be. Had two tough losses in a row, and not how any of us scripted this. But you can’t script it. It’s college football. Comes down to little things here and there, and we haven’t played clean enough in the last couple of weeks.”
Williams passed for 256 yards and no TDs in a second straight difficult game for the star and his Trojans, whose national title hopes are all but dead after back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Utah. USC refused to make any players available to the media afterward.
Landen King caught an early TD pass for the Utes, who annoyed the Trojans and their fans with repeated defensive line substitutions that slowed down USC’s offense.
After falling behind 28-14 in the third quarter, USC kick-started a comeback when safety Calen Bullock returned his interception 30 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth. The Trojans tried and failed on a 2-point conversion.
Branch, the Trojans’ electrifying freshman, set up Williams’ go-ahead scramble on the first play after the punt return — but the Trojans’ second 2-point conversion attempt also failed.
After Utah quickly got to midfield with a personal foul and targeting penalty on USC lineman Bear Alexander, Barnes darted off on his rambling run.
Vaki, Utah’s starting strong safety, put on another jaw-dropping display of two-way prowess in his third game on offense for the Utes. One week after he rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns against California, Vaki caught five passes for 149 yards — the first 100-yard game by a Utes receiver all season — and rushed nine times for 68 yards.
Vaki caught a 53-yard touchdown pass on the Utes’ third play from scrimmage. He scored again late in the third quarter, making an exceptional cutback after a short catch and motoring for a 15-yard TD.
“We may have to start resting him on defense, because he’s so valuable on offense,” Whittingham said.
Utah: Few West Coast programs can measure up to the Utes’ tenacity and consistency over the past two decades, and Whittingham’s dominance of Riley’s rebuilding project underlines these programs’ current states. Utah does more with less than just about any elite program, and a third straight Pac-12 title is still in play.
USC: The Trojans’ season has fallen apart with back-to-back losses, but hints of their downfall were obvious in poor defensive performances earlier in the year. The late comeback aside, USC’s inability to stop a well-coached Utah team with a third-string quarterback and a safety playing tailback says all that needs to be said about the quality of coordinator Alex Grinch’s defense.
Utah: QB Cameron Rising and TE Brant Kuithe won’t play this season, Whittingham announced during his postgame news conference. Rising, a native of nearby Ventura County, got hurt in each of the last two Rose Bowls. Kuithe injured his knee early last season.
Utah: Host Oregon on Oct. 28.
Southern California: At California on Oct. 28.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football