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USC finds its rhythm, beats No. 3 Utah, 42-24

Now this was the USC team everyone expected to see this year.

The Trojans beat No. 3 Utah, 42-24, on Saturday in interim Coach Clay Helton’s Coliseum coaching debut, upsetting the Pac-12 Conference’s only unbeaten team.

The real star of the game was freshman linebacker Cameron Smith, who intercepted three passes from Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, returning a pick 54 yards for a touchdown just before the end of the first half.

Wilson had three interceptions all season before Saturday’s game. He finished 24 of 36 passing for 254 yards with two touchdowns. He also had one final pass intercepted -- four total -- in a deep heave on Utah’s last possesion in the final seconds.

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Utah couldn’t find its zone. USC made all the right moves.

The Trojans attacked the Utes’ normally staunch run defense, racking up 115-rushing yards and four touchdowns. Utah had given up the second-fewest rushing yards (1,124) against conference opponents. 

USC running back Justin Davis began the scoring deluge with a nine-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to cap a nine-play, 88-yard drive in the first quarter.

Then, Soma Vainuku scored on a one-yard run. Ronald Jones II found the end zone at the end of an 18-yard rush and quarterback Cody Kessler had another score on a one-yard dive.

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Kessler completed 21 of 28 passes for 264 yards and connected with receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 25-yard touchdown pass.

Smith-Schuster finished with eight catches for 143 yards.

Utah was held scoreless in the second half until the final four minutes when receiver Britain Covey scored on a 66-yard touchdown catch. He also had a 30-yard scoring catch in the first quarter.

Covey finished with a career-high 129 yards on seven receptions.

Utah running back Bubba Poole rushed for touchdown in the first quarter and Utes kicker Andy Phillips hit a swinging 53-yard field goal before halftime.

USC (4-3, 2-2 in Pac-12 conference play) heads to Berkley to face No. 20 California (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) on Oct. 31. Utah (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) will host Oregon State (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12).

USC 42, Utah 24, end of regulation

Utah makes a valiant effort but their final drive of the game ends with an interception, quarterback Travis Wilson’s fourth of the night.

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USC burns a little bit of clock with four straight hand offs to Justin Davis for 7, 2, -1 and -1. Utah takes over at their own 27 yard line. 

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USC 42, Utah 24 -- 4:00 left in the fourth quarter

Utah receiver Brian Covey scored his second touchdown of the night on a 66-yard pass from quarterback Travis Wilson.

The Utes drive began with short pass to Kenneth Scott for five yards before Wilson held on to the ball for a nine-yard gain.

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USC misses a 36-yard field goal after Cameron Smith intercepts his third pass of the game. 

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The announced attendance is 73,435.

Extra security and officers are lining the field, perhaps in anticipation of fans rushing with the upset. 

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USC linebacker Cameron Smith makes his THIRD interception of the game and returns it 27 yards to Utah’s 23-yard line.

What a sensational night for the freshman from Granite Bay, Calif.

The last time a USC player had three interceptions in a game was in 1991 against Penn State.

USC 42, Utah 17 -- 9:58 left in the fourth quarter 

Cody Kessler completes a 25-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a USC touchdown and fans begin to file out of the Coliseum, the Trojans up 42-17 in the fourth quarter.

The scoring drive went 92 yards in eight plays.

Earlier in the drive, Kessler made an impressive 29-yard pass over the top to Smith-Schuster, who has eight receptions for 143 yards.

Utah looks defeated on the sideline and its defense is outmatched by the number of playmakers USC has.

Kyle Whittingham said earlier this week that USC has the most talent in the conference. It appears tonight that Trojans coaches figured out how to put it together.

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USC’s defense and the Coliseum have come alive against the third-ranked Utes. Su’a Cravens tackles quarterback Travis Wilson on third down and Utah punts.

USC has shut down Utah’s rushing game. The Utes have rushed for 83 yard in 24 carries. 

The question now: Do USC fans rush the field if their team defeats third-ranked Utah? 

USC 35, Utah 17 - 3:37 left in the third quarter

USC goes 83 yards in 17 plays and Cody Kessler keeps it on fourth down for a one-yard sneak. The Trojans take a 35-17 lead.

Kessler starts the drive with a three-yard pass to Adoree’ Jackson, who had a quiet first half. 

Ronald Jones, who has been outstanding, slips a tackle and rushes for seven yards.

JuJu Smith-Schuster strong arms a defender on his way to a 15-yard reception. The USC sideline goes wild and its apparent momentum is on the Trojans’ side. 

Kessler is sacked a third time to put USC in third-down territory, however Utah commits a costly penalty as a personal foul is called and gives USC an automatic first down.

Jones takes a hand off, is tackled for a loss and fumbles on the way down.  Soma Vainuku recovers.

Third and 12, Smith-Schuster sheds a tackle and fights his way to a first down. There aren’t many receivers who are as aggressive after the catch as Smith-Schuster. 

Tight end sighting! Kessler completes a 17-yard pass to Tyler Petite, a rarely targeted freshman.

Kessler completes a six-yard pass to Adoree’ Jackson who is tackled just short of the goal.

USC can’t make it into the end zone on first three attempts, but Kessler keeps it on fourth down and gets the sneak for a touchdown.

The extra point is good.

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USC’s defense forces a three and out. 

Utah has averaged 192 yards rushing per game, but has been held to 66 yards tonight

Devontae Booker has rushed for 58 yards in 12 carries.

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USC receives to start the second half but is quickly forced to a three and out. 

Cody Kessler starts the drive with a deep pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who makes an acrobatic catch but lands out of bounds.

Justin Davis rushes for a yard and Kessler is under pressure on third down and must throw it away.

USC punts.

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USC announces that center Toa Lobendahn will be sidelined for the remainder of the game because of a knee injury and so will safety Marvell Tell because of a shoulder injury.

Lobendahn was playing center in place of Max Tuerk, who is out for the season. Khaliel Rodgers is now playing the position.

USC 28, Utah 17 -- halftime 

Tom Hackett kicks a 53-yard field goal to cap a seven-play, 40-yard scoring drive as Utah goes into halftime trailing, 28-17.

Freshman cornerback Iman Marshall is called for pass interference for a second time. Interim Coach Clay Helton said this week at practice that hand placement would be critical in USC’s attempt to minimize penalties.

Travis Wilson completes a 21-yard pass over the middle to Britain Covey. Matt Lopes, in for Marvell Tell, makes the tackle.

The clock is ticking toward halftime and this when USC typically gives up the end-of-half touchdown. However, Delvon Simmons sacks Wilson for a loss of 10 yards and Wilson’s third-down pass falls incomplete.

The Coliseum, despite a less-than-sellout crowd, is rocking. 

Hackett kicks a 53-yard field goal. 

USC 28, Utah 14 -- 1:07 left in the second quarter

Linebacker Cameron Smith intercepts Travis Wilson a second time and returns it 54 yards for a USC touchdown. The freshman intercepted Wilson earlier in the second quarter.

Utah was trying to convert on fourth down. 

The Coliseum shakes and rumbles as confetti falls through the stands. 

USC 21, Utah 14 -- 3:40 left in the second quarter

Tailback Ronald Jones is unstoppable on his way to rushing 18 yards for a touchdown. USC went 76 yards in 10 plays on the scoring drive to take a seven point lead.

Quarterback Cody Kessler completes a 14-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster has caught three passes for 51 yards.

Kessler takes a big hit as he completes a 10-yard pass to Adoree’ Jackson and a few plays later he completes a deep 30-yard pass to De’Quan Hampton for Hampton’s longest reception of the season.

Jahleel Pinner temporary haults progress as he’s called for USC’s second penalty of the game.

Kessler hands off to Jones, who dodges two tackles and carries a defender into the end zone. 

The extra point is good.

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After a sluggish start, USC’s defense has come to life and forces Utah to punt.

Utah quarterback Travis wilson is nine of 13 for 69 yards and a touchdown.

Devontae Booker has been held to 39 yards in eight carries.

USC 14, Utah 14 -- 9:47 left in the second quarter

Linebacker Cameron Smith returns an interception 41 yards to set up Soma Vainuku’s one-yard rush for a touchdown. USC ties Utah, 14-14.

Smith eyes down Travis Wilson, intercepts his pass and returns it 41-yards to Utah’s four-yard line. That’s Smith’s first career interception and it was only a matter of time before he made one in a game - Smith made several interceptions in spring practice and fall camp.

Cody Kessler throws two incomplete passes into the end zone before Justin Davis rushes three yards and is tackled just short of the goal line.

Vainuku leaps over the pile on fourth down for a touchdown

The Trojans needed that big play from Smith -- and Vainku -- to regain some momentum.

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USC’s offensive line is held together by a Band-Aid at this point as Toa Lobendahn is sitting on the trainer’s table and Khaliel Rodgers is in at center. The Trojans punt after five plays. Cody Kessler is under a lot of pressure.

Utah’s special teams - again - dominate the Trojans. Kris Albarado’s punt is blocked by Corey Butler-Byrd.

Utah will start from its own 35-yard line. 

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Defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr. sacks quarterback Travis Wilson and Utah punts.

Cameron Smith tackles Devontae Booker after he rushes for a yard and Leon McQuay III, who has played sparingly this season, makes a nice play on defense as Wilson’s pass falls incomplete.

Townsend makes his third sack of the season.

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USC is one for three on third down and punts again.

Utah’s defense shuts down the running game on the drive as Ronald Jones, Dominic Davis and Justin Davis each get carries that go virtually nowhere.

The highlight of the drive is a nice block by De’Quan Hampton on an 18-yard reception by JuJu Smith-Schuster.

USC must respond soon after Utah’s quick two touchdowns and swing of momentum. 

Utah 14, USC 7 -- 1:48 left in the first quarter

USC’s offense goes a quick three and out and Utah’s special teams sets up an easy two-yard touchdown run by Devontae Booker. The Utes quickly take a seven-point lead.

Britain Covey returns Kris Albarado’s punt 40-yards as Covey makes several USC players miss tackles.

One of the Utes strengths is their special teams -- and so far, they’ve made USC look silly. 

USC 7, Utah 7 -- 3:47 left in the first quarter

Utah quarterback Travis Wilson completes an impressive 30-yard pass to Britain Covey for a touchdown and the Utes tie the game at seven after the extra point. The drive went 83 yards in nine plays.

Clay Helton said before the game that stopping Devontae Booker would be key.

Booker opens the drive with three plays and a first down.

The Utes are gifted another first down when defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow is called offsides. 

Wilson completes a seven-yard pass to Kenneth Scott, an eight-yard pass to Harrison Handley and five-yard pass to Covey before he finds Covey again for a touchdown.

The extra point is good.

JuJu Smith-Schuster mishandles the kickoff and returns it seven yards to USC’s own nine-yard line.

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USC 7, Utah 0 -- 7:59 left in the first quarter 

Tailback Justin Davis rushes nine yards for a touchdown to cap a nine-play, 88-yard scoring drive. USC’s offense moved swiftly on Utah’s defense.

USC’s offensive line collapses on Cody Kessler and he is sacked to start the drive. 

Ronald Jones rushes for 22 yards in two carries, JuJu Smith-Schuster catches a pass for 19 yards, Dominic Davis catches a 12-yard pass and Jalen Greene makes a nine-yard reception on the drive. 

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USC’s defense makes a stand on Utah’s first drive of the game and forces the Utes to punt.

The Utes were off to a fast start before Scott Felix tackled quarterback Travis Wilson at the line of scrimmage, Su’a Cravens tackled receiver Bubba Poole for a loss and Devontae Booker was tackled short of a first down.

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It’s a late arriving crowd at the Coliseum on this Saturday afternoon and there are lots of open seats with less than three minutes until kickoff.

Former USC fullback Sam Cunningham led the team onto the field. 

From the sound of the cheers as Utah took the field it would seem the Utes traveled a strong contingent of fans.

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USC announced starting lineups and there are changes at several positions.

Zach Banner will move from right tackle to start at left tackle in place of Chad Wheeler who is sidelined because of a concussion. Freshman Chuma Edoga will start at right tackle.

Jalen Greene will make his second start at receiver in place of Steven Mitchell Jr. who is sidelined because of an ankle injury. Receiver Darreus Rogers also is sidelined.

Kevon Seymour returns to the starting lineup at cornerback and opposite of him is freshman Iman Marshall.

Adoree’ Jackson is not listed as a starter on defense - or offense - but the majority of his time is likely to be spent on offense and it wouldn’t be surprising if he starts.

Safety Leon McQuay also returns to the starting lineup in place of John Plattenburg. Plattenburg was absent from practice this week beause of an illness, Interim Coach Clay Helton said. 

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It’s a hot late-October afternoon in the Coliseum as USC and Utah warm up for a 4:30 pm kickoff.

The Trojans, 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12 Conference, are six-point favorites over the undefeated Utes -- and yes, you read that correctly. Despite the coaching turnover, the turmoil and the losses, USC is the favorite as explained in this article from earlier this week in the Times.

It’s hard to believe USC’s last game in the Coliseum was a 17-12 loss to Washington two weeks ago and it was Steve Sarkisian’s last game as head coach.

Clay Helton will make his Coliseum debut as interim coach tonight and on the opposite sideline will be Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham, who is considered a potential candidate for the position at USC.

Follow Lindsey Thiry on Twitter @LindseyThiry


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