LOS ANGELES -- One of the big storylines coming into last Saturday's game was the inexperienced Trojans offensive line against the big defensive line of the Utah Utes.
As the game played out, it was the opposite matchup that was key, as the USC defensive line controlled the Utah running game and pressured quarterback Jordan Wynn all night, leading to a 23-14 USC win.
The Trojans held the Utes to 109 yards rushing, but 51 of those yards came on a reverse by a wide receiver. Utah running back John White was held to 56 yards on 20 carries (2.9 yard average) after rushing for 150 yards on 19 carries in the opener.
"We just had to go out there today and play football," said Trojans junior defensive end Nick Perry. "Stopping the run is all about pad level, getting off the ball and being physical. I thought we did that today."
Wynn was sacked only twice, once by Perry and once by DaJohn Harris, but he was forced to make quick throws and was chased from the pocket on several other plays as the Trojans D-line was simply too quick for the Utah offensive line.
Getting pressure on Wynn was part of the plan for the Trojans, as he had struggled in Week 1 while coming back from a shoulder injury.
"You could see that Wynn was playing through an injury, and he was tough," said Trojans coach Lane Kiffin. "We did the best we could to put pressure on him and contain him from making plays. He really saved them in a lot of ways out there, but I thought our D-line played really well."
The final score doesn't give an accurate picture of how well the entire USC defense shut down the Utah offense. Both of the Utes' scores came directly after Trojans turnovers.
With USC leading 10-0 in the second quarter and driving inside the Utah red zone, freshman tailback D.J. Morgan fumbled, and Utah linebacker Boo Andersen recovered at the 16-yard line. Wynn promptly hit wide receiver DeVonte Christopher for a 30-yard gain, and 11 plays later the Utes had scored to make it 10-7 at the half.
USC responded well, opening the third quarter with a long drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Matt Barkley to freshman tight end Xavier Grimble for a 17-7 lead. On its next drive, Utah drove the ball to midfield but tried a fake punt on fourth down. Trojans linebacker Dion Bailey read the play well and made the tackle to get the ball back for USC.
With the ball on the Trojans' 46 and a chance to take control of the game, Barkley hit Grimble with a short pass, but Grimble fumbled, and Utah's Conroy Black recovered on the Utes' 48. A Reggie Dunn reverse went for 51 yards and, after punching in a short TD run, the Utes suddenly were right back in the game.
Fortunately for the Trojans, the defensive line was relentless for the remainder of the contest, never allowing Wynn to get his team back to the end zone. Perry had a key sack at midfield to force a punt at the start of the fourth quarter, and two consecutive three-and-out possessions helped preserve the Trojans' lead.
"We were kind of disappointed with the pressure we were getting in the first half, so we had to kind of get into them at halftime," said USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. "We did get more pressure in the second half, and I think that ended up being the difference in the game. Wynn threw a lot of quick passes, and he's not really that tall, so it was part of our game plan to get after that. But I was still surprised that we were able to block that many. Monte [Kiffin] also called a couple blitzes that I thought were really good."
For the second week in a row, the Trojans defense came up big to secure a victory, after being so maligned a year ago for failing to stop multiple last-minute scoring drives. Orgeron had maintained through the offseason that an improved pass rush from his line was the key to defensive improvement, and this game helped illustrate exactly that point.
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.