The 2022 Pac-12 Championship game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas began with such promise for the USC Trojans. The Trojans entered the game ranked No. 4 in the college football universe and were on the brink of securing a berth in the upcoming College Football Playoffs (CFP).
Christmas was coming early for the Trojans, the smell of victory in the air, and a beautiful California dream of the cardinal and gold representing the Pac-12 in the CFP. Caleb Williams, the electrifying Trojan quarterback, appeared to have this year’s Heisman trophy on lock, and the hiring of head coach Lincoln Riley, paying off in spades, surpassing all expectations in his first year, finishing with an impressive record of 11-2. And the Men of Troy were given the rare opportunity to avenge their season’s only loss against the Utes. However, this dream would end in shock and despair for Trojan fans everywhere.
The Utah Utes defeated the USC Trojans, winning their second straight Pac-12 Championship and a trip to the City of Roses, the 2023 Rose Bowl game in Pasadena. Trojan head coach Lincoln Riley said it best.
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“You come as far as this team and this program has come in the last 12 months to get that close to winning a championship and more; obviously not getting it done, it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Someone forgot to tell the Utes that Friday night belonged to the Trojans. The Utes (10-3) overcame their early jitters and ball drops, finishing the game with a whopping 533 yards of offense, with Utes quarterback Cam Rising throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. His teammate Ja’Quiden Jackson finished with 105 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, and the defense recorded seven sacks against USC.
The Trojans began the game on fire with Caleb Williams going deep to Tahj Washington, a 49-yard pass placing the ball at the Utah 2-yard line. Williams would find Washington again on a 2-yard touchdown pass giving USC a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Utes followed with a 25-yard field goal with 6:10 left in the first quarter, USC leading 7-3. Williams would run for 59 yards injuring his hamstring and finishing the play with a touchdown pass to Raleek Brown; 2:52 remaining in the first quarter, Trojans 14 – Utes 3.
Williams continued to play injured, and Riley admitted during the post-game conference that he thought about taking him out of the game, but the quarterback wanted no part of that plan.
“The rest of the game, I felt it, but I had something that [I] always go by,” Williams said. The late “Kobe Bryant always said the game is bigger than what you’re feeling.”
Riley called his willingness to play through the injury “the gutsiest performance I’ve ever seen.” The damage, however, would limit William’s ability to scramble and throw the ball for the remainder of the game, a disadvantage capitalized on by the Utes. Williams threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns, and one interception. He had 21 rushing yards and seven sacks.
The Trojans would march down to the Utah 3-yard line and kick a 20-yard field goal to give USC a 17-3 lead. Utah would score on an 8-yard touchdown to Ja’Quinden Jackson, and with 1:40 left in the half, Utah’s Cam Rising threw a 4-yard pass to Jaylen Dixon to tie the game, 17-17.
In second-half play, Utah’s Cam Rising threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Money Parks, giving Utah a 24-17 lead. Utah would kick a 35-yard field goal, increasing their lead to 27-17. The Trojans answered with a 12-yard pass from Williams to Mario Williams, with the Trojans cutting the score to 27-24. Utah would score with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Yassmin, giving Utah a 34-24 lead.
The Trojans would move the ball on a 48-yard pass to Jordan Addison with 8:10 left in the fourth quarter. Utah would intercept Williams, a drive that ended with Utah’s Ja’Quinden Jackson scoring on a 53-yard touchdown run. The Utes missed the extra point.
With 3:24 left in the fourth quarter, the Utes sacked Caleb Williams, and he fumbled with Utah recovering the ball. The Utes Micah Bernard would score a 23-yard touchdown to put Utah ahead 47-24, effectively putting the nail in the Trojan’s coffin.
Trojans fans headed for the exits as the championship trophy and presentation stands appeared on the sidelines, and the Utes began celebrating. The Trojans will play in the Cotton Bowl on January 2 against the Tulane Green Waves, and Caleb Williams remains a top candidate for the Heisman. And in the words of a former California governor and actor – Lincoln Riley and the Men of Troy will be back.