SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - Despite racing out to a 14-0 lead against #13 USC and trailing by just three points headed into the 4th quarter, the Utes football team is not satisfied with their performance in Thursday night's 38-28 loss to the Trojans.
"There are no moral victories in this program," said head coach Kyle Whittingham. "But we played like we're supposed to play. We did not do that in the Arizona State game, so we saw progress. But we still have a long ways to go."
"We lost, but our defense played a lot better and our offense played a lot better," said defensive tackle Dave Kruger. "I think it is a step forward."
The defense put the Utes in position to win, forcing two early turnovers. But the offense could manage only one sustained drive until the end of the game, as Utah got outscored at one point 38-7. Utah was outgained 432-304 and managed just 15 first downs.
"I think we did a bad job of thinking we had the game under control," said defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. "We kind of settled. We should have kept fighting. USC just came back and took care of business."
"The defense did a great job putting us where we needed to be," said quarterback Jon Hays, who completed 19 of 32 passes for 160 yards, one touchdown and one interception that was returned for a score. "It was just a disappointing 4th quarter for myself in particular."
"When you play a team of USC's caliber, that's what you hope for is going into the 4th quarter with a chance to win it," said Whittingham. "But we didn't get it done."
The referees didn't help matters. They called an astounding 27 penalties, 13 on the Utes including one that negated a touchdown pass from Hays to Kenneth Scott just before the end of the first half.
"I never complain about [the officials], but 27 penalties in one game?" said Whittingham. "Give me a break. Let the kids play. I'm not saying good or bad officiating, just let them play."
"It's tough getting a touchdown right before half called back," said Hays. "It was definitely a little deflating."
When the final gun sounded, the Utes were disappointed with the result, but after an embarrassing performance at Arizona State, they now know they truly can play with any team in the Pac-12.
"Man, we can hang with anybody," said wide receiver Kenneth Scott. "I don't care what anybody says, this is a great group of guys. We're tough and we can play with anybody."
"It was just two competitive good teams," added safety Brian Blechen. "Tonight was four quarters of both teams taking the shots they could get and playing real hard."
"We thought we had the formula," said running back John White, who rushed for 68 yards on 13 carries. "We fought to the end, but it just wasn't enough."
Next up for the Utes, a trip to the Rose Bowl to take on 25th-ranked UCLA Saturday, October 13th at noon.
Asked how far that game seems now, wide receiver DeVonte Christopher said, "Like an eternity. It's what, nine days away? That's actually better for us because it gives us more time to prepare and give more time for guys to heal up. We just have to use it to our advantage and find ways to get better."