USC hangs on to beat Utah in Pac-12's debut game

September 11, 2011 - 1:05 AM
Utah USC Football

Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley passes during the first half of their NCAA college football game against Utah, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, in Los Angeles, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Matt Kalil blocked Utah's 41-yard field goal attempt on the final play and Torin Harris returned it for a touchdown that wasn't counted until two hours after the game ended in Southern California's wacky 23-14 victory Saturday night in the first game in Pac-12 history.

Matt Barkley passed for 264 yards for the Trojans (2-0, 1-0), but they couldn't celebrate until Kalil swatted down Coleman Petersen's final kick after the Utes (1-1, 0-1) drove into field-goal range from their 33 in the final 1:01.

Harris returned the kick into the Utah end zone, but the officials appeared to rule the touchdown didn't count because of an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty when much of the USC bench ran onto the field to celebrate.

Long after the Coliseum had emptied, Pac-12 officials announced Harris had scored after all.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — If the first game in Pac-12 history is any indication of what's in store, the rest of the country had better not fall asleep before the West Coast games are finished.

Southern California and Utah packed a plethora of drama into the final minutes of the league's debut, and it wasn't over until Matt Kalil swatted away the Utes' last gasp.

Matt Barkley passed for 264 yards, Kalil blocked Utah's 41-yard field goal attempt on the wacky final play and USC held off the upstart Utes 17-14 Saturday night.

Marc Tyler rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown in his return from suspension and Robert Woods had eight catches for 102 yards as the Trojans (2-0, 1-0) opened their new conference schedule with a tenacious defensive performance against their new division rivals.

But USC couldn't celebrate until Kalil swatted down Coleman Petersen's final kick after the Utes (1-1, 0-1) drove into field-goal range from their 33 in the final 1:01.

"It hit my forearm, so it didn't even get over my hand," said Kalil, the Trojans' 6-foot-7 left tackle. "Luckily, I'm a tall guy."

Torin Harris returned the kick into the Utah end zone, but the score was waved off by an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty when much of the USC bench ran onto the field to celebrate.

"I was trying to follow what was going on with the refs, but we had so many chances to put that game away," said Barkley, who went 20 for 32. "The defense won this game for us, no doubt about it."

The Pac-12's debut game matched the conference's newest member against the winningest program in league history. Once the biggest BCS-busters outside Boise State, Utah and its raucous fans didn't look at all out of place in the venerable Coliseum.

"It was baptism by fire," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We stayed toe-to-toe, but we have to find a way to win close games. ... If you have a group of competitive guys, you want to play the best in the country. Personnel-wise, USC stacks up with anyone in the country."

Perhaps so do the Utes. A week after USC was shut out in the second half by lowly Minnesota, Utah forced three key turnovers and shut out the Trojans in the final 24 minutes.

Neither team was particularly impressive offensively in the second half, with nobody scoring at all in the final 21 minutes. Barkley threw a 9-yard scoring pass to Xavier Grimble, but the Trojans also committed two turnovers deep in Utah territory in the first half.

"It's never fun to lose that way," said Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, who passed for 238 yards and a touchdown. "We gave ourselves a chance. We drove down there. I thought we were going to play some more football, but it didn't work out that way."

After Wynn threw three incompletions on Utah's final drive, USC thought it had won when Harris tackled DeVonte Christopher inches shy of the first-down marker with 20 seconds left. But after video review, officials changed the spot and gave a first down to Utah.

Tony Burnett then committed pass interference with 11 seconds left, moving Utah to the Trojans 24. The Utes immediately got their field-goal team on the field, but Kalil's block went straight to Harris, whose return set off a huge celebration in the Coliseum end zone, with USC students pouring out of the stands to join the players.

"It did kind of seem like forever," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "You kept hoping for a play that would end the game. ... I thought our guys came out good again. We're there. We're playing really well in all phases of the game. We're just not putting people away."

Christopher had 11 catches for 136 yards and a score for the Utes, who hadn't played USC in the Coliseum since 1948. South Los Angeles native John White rushed for a score for the Utes, but they struggled to move the ball consistently all day.

Tyler returned to the USC lineup after missing the season opener under team suspension for a series of misdeeds culminating in an ill-advised appearance on TMZ. The Trojans' leading rusher last season was allowed to return to practice late last month, and he ran with obvious urgency in his return, getting 24 carries.

"This is something I've dreamed about doing since I got in trouble, just coming back and being a big impact to the fans and my teammates," Tyler said.

USC kicker Andre Heidari scored the first points in Pac-12 history on a 47-yard field goal, and Tyler scored the first touchdown late in the first quarter on a short drive set up by White's fumble.

After USC freshman D.J. Morgan fumbled, Utah finally solved USC's defense with a 12-play, 84-yard drive culminating in Wynn's 10-yard TD pass to Christopher with 34 seconds left.

USC scored its final points on an 88-yard drive shortly after halftime featuring three big receptions by Grimble, the freshman tight end from Las Vegas. One play before Grimble's 9-yard TD catch, the Utes committed two penalties against Woods on the same play, determined to disrupt USC's top playmaker after his school-record 17 catches last week.