For the second time this season, Trojan fans at the Coliseum held their breath as a USC quarterback laid on the turf with an injury. Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis left on the second play of the game with an apparent head injury, thrusting third-string redshirt junior Matt Fink into the QB spot. In his 2019 debut, Fink rose the occasion, posting 351 yards, a 70% completion percentage and three touchdowns en route to USC’s 30-23 win over No. 10 Utah Friday night.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of [Fink],” head coach Clay Helton said.
Fink’s performance comes after his decision not to transfer this past off-season. He was chosen as the third-string after a tough quarterback battle in spring and fall camps.
“What comes down to it is [sic], this team, it’s stacked. You have the best players in the nation here. Why would I go somewhere else and play [with] lesser of athletes?” Fink said.
Air-raid was clearly in full effect, as USC scored its first 21 points on passing touchdowns no shorter than 29 yards long. The Trojans drew first blood on the opening drive with a 29-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. The Trojans continued to dominate in the air with a 31-yard touchdown to redshirt junior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns and a 78-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.
Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell reaffirmed that USC won’t alter its offensive scheme based on personnel.
“We’re never going to change the game plan,” Harrell said. “We’re going to put a guy in, we’re going to expect him to execute at a high level. I spend a lot of time with him, we sit in meetings all day and I expect him to go execute, and that’s what he did.”
The Trojans entered the second half leading 14-10. Out of the half, the Trojans kept a steady pace, never losing the lead and outscoring the Utes 16-13.
Pittman notched a career-high 232 yards on a career-high 10 receptions with one touchdown to his name. That touchdown, the longest of his career, came in at 78-yards. The next-best receiver, St. Brown, recorded 68 yards on 5 receptions.
“They just couldn’t stop me,” Pittman said.
The sole lowlight of Fink’s performance was an underthrown pass from USC’s own 14-yard line, which Utah intercepted and converted to a touchdown three plays later.
For a while, it looked as if Utah was going to come back into the picture. In the fourth quarter, Utah opened the drive on their own six-yard line. On second down from the 11-yard line, USC freshman defensive lineman Drake Jackson pressed senior quarterback Tyler Huntley into his end zone forcing an intentional grounding. The play was ruled a safety and USC posted a touchdown on the ensuing drive, sealing the win for the Trojans.
“We’re all together just grinding out,” Jackson said. “So just tonight we had to grind it out again.”
After last week’s matchup, a clear point of needed improvement for the Trojans was quarterback containment and backfield tackling. USC showed a better performance in that area with the return of redshirt senior Christian Rector from an injury. But it was clear there is still room for improvement, after a week of practice where tackling clearly wasn’t a point of focus for defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
“We made better open-field tackles but we still have things to clean up,” redshirt sophomore cornerback Greg Johnson said. “This wasn’t our best game but we’re going to work on limiting penalties.”
Sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga led the defense with 14 total tackles and 1.5 sacks. His performed aggressively, crashing the line and making big stops for the defense.
Huntley showed his veteran pocket presence, taking advantage of USC’s missed tackles and scrambling for gains. The veteran put up 60 rushing yards, 21 more yards than the leading Trojan back.
“Credit our defense, Utah got some yards,” Helton said. “They’ve got some special players over there. I’m glad Huntley is an old person. I don’t want to see him again.”
The Trojans’ upset will likely put the Trojans back into the AP top 25 after being knocked out of the rankings by BYU last week. USC improved to 3-1 on the season and notched its second conference win. Next Saturday, USC faces No. 22 Washington on the road at 12:30 p.m.