”Don’t let the same dog bite you twice.”
Legendary musician Chuck Berry might have assigned a different meaning to those words when he spoke them, namely, don’t make the same mistake twice, but now twisted, they applied just as well to USC on Friday night, when the Trojans fell victim to Utah biting them — and beating them — a second time in as many games.
More precisely, letting had nothing to do with it. Fact is, the Ute dog was gonna eat and USC might as well have been an open can of Alpo.
The Utes, make no mistake, have plenty of dog in them. A dog with a rose now in its mouth.
With so much on the line for the Trojans — a Pac-12 championship, a playoff spot, a Heisman Trophy for their quarterback — the second defeat was much worse than the first. Deeper, darker, devastating-er.
The second win was oh-so sweet for the Utes, lifting now in consecutive years a title trophy and heading to the bowl in Pasadena that likes to refer to itself as the Granddaddy.
If there was any suspicion floating around the Utes’ initial victory over USC in October, the only previous loss — a one-pointer — suffered by the Trojans, that doubt was dunked hard in this game at Allegiant Stadium, where the final numbers on the board — 47-24 — confirmed, substantiated, reinforced, validated, corroborated, verified, extended Utah’s original success.
After it was done, Kyle Whittingham correctly said: “Never doubt that group of guys over there. They’re warriors.”
As for his quarterback, the championship game MVP, Cam Rising, Whittingham said: “He’s an alpha dog, a team leader. … That’s who he is.”
That’s who the Utes are.
As the guys in crimson-and-white hugged each other and celebrated, the Trojans sat with towels over their heads.
USC came in ranked No. 4. It went away four-on-the-floor.
And the teams listed behind the Trojans, the ones with dreams of a College Football Playoff invite, rejoiced.
This reward was everything for which Utah had played since encountering early adversity — losses to Florida and UCLA, and later, to Oregon — and overcoming all of it as the Utes did their business on the field here and raised their voices and their fists in the after-party.
By now, opponents and observers alike should stand forewarned that when Whittingham’s team has its legitimacy questioned, when its very presence in a big game is downgraded to a disrespectful base level of fortunate or flukey happenstance, look out.
Hell hath no fury like Utah football being doubted.
That’s when Whittingham has a gift for stirring within his players the best they have to offer. And, in total, they offered it on this occasion.
This thing may have been all USC for 15 minutes, but after that, the whole game flipped, Utah out-gaining the Trojans on attack, out-hitting them in resistance.
“Our defense came to life in the second quarter and played lights out,” Whittingham said.
USC exploded out of the gate, scoring on its first drive via Caleb Williams’ runs and passes, including a busted coverage by the Utes, making it 7-0 three-and-a-half minutes in.
If the Trojans started with a quick slap, the Utes began with a power punch, moving down the field straightaway, but a stuffed jet sweep led to a subsequent failed pass into the end zone, forcing the Utes to find some satisfaction in a short field goal.
They found no satisfaction in Williams running forever on SC’s next possession, putting the Trojans at the Utah 11-yard line before they got their second TD on another Williams pass. While the 14-3 margin turned to 17-3, portending a blowout for everyone else, it suggested no trouble for the Utes.
As Whittingham said, their defense stiffened and mighty momentum shifted.
For Utah — we’ve seen it before — shift happens.
The Utes conjured a nearly seven-minute scoring drive that reestablished their pride and their chances. That move was impressive, as was the effort the rest of the way, what with Dalton Kincaid and Devaughn Vele hurting due to injuries, but battling still.
Kincaid was the embodiment of what Whittingham preaches to and expects from his players — defiance and determination. The tight end fought off his pain through a Utah drive with three rugged catches in the closing minute of the first half, with Rising showing his talents, moving around, hitting targets, steering his team directly into the end zone on a pass to Jaylen Dixon with a few ticks left on the clock.
And yes, it was 17-17 at the break.
Fight on? No, game on. Push on. Work on. Churn on. Forge on. Right on.
This, as mentioned, is Utah’s charm.
You can slap the Utes around all you want, but they hit back. Go down by seven, no big thing. Go down 14, who cares. They might blink now and again, but … good lord, quit is not in their nature.
In a modern game highlighted as much as it is by speed and enlightenment, a game that still makes room for the burps and the grunts and the flexes of Cro-Magnon men, that might be the finest compliment a football team can be paid.
Utah did, then, what it’s done all season long — toughed its way through all the chop, with the big’uns up front rising up and making life much more difficult for USC on both sides of the ball.
After an as-always rousing moment of loudness, a tradition paying tribute to their fallen teammates, the Utes scored first in the second half on a third-and-18 pass from Rising to Money Parks and after the receiver broke a tackle, he winged down the field, giving Utah a 24-17 lead.
But the offense ate, too.
On one memorable play, a run by Rising, he was hit about as violently as a player can be hit, his body dropping backward, his helmet flying off, his hair looking like the head of a tossed mop. It had the appearance of a poor soul driving his Buick into a brick wall at 60 mph.
What did the quarterback do? He picked up his helmet and laughed.
That’s right. He laughed.
And then continued to lead his offense to another score, this time a field goal that put Utah up 10 early in the last quarter.
What would USC do? Williams showed guts of his own, getting thumped, again and again, but his accuracy did not suffer much, guiding the Trojans 75 yards to a touchdown, cutting the Utah lead to three.
What would Utah do? Fire off for another touchdown, Rising to Thomas Yassmin, who caught a long ball at the SC 12-yard line and bulled his way through a defender and over the goal line, jacking the lead back to 10, 34-24, with 10:08 left.
My, oh my.
When the normally stellar Clark Phillips fell down in coverage, USC was able to complete a deep pass, putting itself in position to threaten again, but RJ Hubert picked off Williams.
From there, the Utes finished the deal with Ja’Quinden Jackson rambling and rumbling for a 53-yard touchdown run. A Micah Bernard TD run came next.
Run, run and … done.
“It’s difficult to [bite] a team twice in the same season,” Whittingham said, “especially a team the caliber of USC.”
That’s exactly the way Utah, this dog, likes it.
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