USC defense shines in win over Utah – Daily News



Southern California linebacker Kana’i Mauga (26) reacts after making a tackle during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Utah on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Southern California linebacker Kana’i Mauga (26) reacts after making a tackle during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Utah on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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Utah wide receiver Samson Nacua, right, scores against Southern California safety Isaiah Pola-Mao (21) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III (8) tackles Southern California wide receiver Bru McCoy (4) during the first half during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah linebacker Nephi Sewell scores after recovering a Southern California fumble during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis throws a pass during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Utah on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah linebacker Nephi Sewell (29) scores after recovering a Southern California fumble during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising looks for a receiver during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Southern California on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Southern California running back Vavae Malepeai (29) carries against Utah during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Southern California running back Vavae Malepeai (29) carries the ball during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Utah on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Southern California running back Vavae Malepeai (29) drags a Utah player along on a carry during the first half during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Southern California linebacker Drake Jackson (99) hits Utah quarterback Cameron Rising (7) as he throws during the first half during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) throws a pass during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Utah on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Rice-Eccles Stadium is shown before an NCAA college football game between Southern California and Utah Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Southern California linebacker Ralen Goforth warms up before the team’s NCAA college football game against Utah on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis warms up before the team’s NCAA college football game against Utah on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis warms up before the team’s NCAA college football game against Utah on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

This was the USC defense that was imagined when the Trojans hired coordinator Todd Orlando last winter. Linebackers flying up and making tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. A converted defensive end making plays in pass coverage. Five forced turnovers, three sacks.

And it was exactly what the doctor ordered in No. 20 USC’s 33-17 win over Utah on Saturday night.

Because, despite generally outplaying a Utah team participating in its first game since New Year’s Eve, the Trojans (3-0) were struggling to put away their opponent. USC had two trips to the red zone in the third quarter, and came away with two field goals.

It gave Utah the chance to drive, down 13 with the opportunity to cut it to a one-score game early in the fourth quarter. But when the Utes (0-1) went for it on fourth-and-four from the USC 10, linebacker Ralen Goforth was there for the pass breakup.

It was one of several impressive moments on Saturday from USC linebackers, Orlando’s position group and one he had not been overly impressed with through two games.

But Kana’i Mauga got the action going early as he started in place of Palaie Gaoteote IV (concussion). Mauga made the first two tackles of the game, punctuating each with fierce screams into the air at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Goforth and Mauga finished first and second among USC tacklers, combining for 23 take downs. It was the first time this season a linebacker led the Trojans in tackles. Hybrid outside backer Drake Jackson added an interception in coverage in the first half.

That was one of two picks for the Trojans, as safety Talanoa Hufanga grabbed his second of the season. Isaiah Pola-Mao jumped on a bungled handoff by the Utes, and defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu knocked lose another fumble that was recovered by Connor Murphy. Cornerback Chris Steele a final interception as time expired in the fourth quarter.

Overall, the Trojans gave up just 10 points on offense (the Utes returned a Kedon Slovis fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter). USC held Utah to 335 total yards.

The defense’s play helped shield some of the struggles of the offense, which gained just 22 more yards than the Utes. Slovis didn’t look like himself, again, with two turnovers, including an interception that flew well behind its intended target and another inexplicable pass into triple coverage that, mercifully, fell harmlessly to the ground.

Slovis finished the game 24 of 35 for 264 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The USC run game was held to 93 yards and 3.0 per carry with leading rusher Markese Stepp in street clothes with an upper body injury.

So, to put it mildly, it was another imperfect game from USC. But it didn’t matter, as the Trojan defense delivered the performance that was imagined when Orlando came over from Texas.