The Utes managed just 304 yards barely above their meager 298-yard average, and only by virtue of a garbage-time touchdown drive engineered by backup quarterback Travis Wilson.
Until that final drive, the Utes had been outscored 38-7 after the two fumbles, and had gained just 241 yards. Still, it was better than two weeks ago, when the Utes lost 37-7 at Arizona State.
"Incremental progress," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We took a step forward. We didn't have great numbers, but the execution" was better.
Quarterback Jon Hays had a forgettable night, completing 19 of 32 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns he had another negated by one of 27 penalties in the game but dooming the Utes with an interception that was returned for USC's final touchdown with 9:30 left.
"I just gotta burn the ball, and the defense gets a stop and we're right back in it," said Hays, visibly angry in the post-game press conference. "It's a two-possession game. It's not all on that particular play, but that's a huge one."
"A pick-six in that situation can't show up," he added.
Whittingham said he felt the Utes did a better job balancing the run and pass games, with running back John White back at full strength after an ankle injury.
The Utes rushed for just 95 yards 68 of them by White on 13 carries. The Utes ran 22 times behind their makshift offensive line, and passed 23 times.
"We knew we needed to throw the ball a little bit more," Whittingham said. "We struck a pretty good balance. We were more productive in the rushing game, even though we weren't as productive as we need to be."
The Utes have one of the least-productive offenses in the nation, by yards gained:
Opponent Rush Pass Result
Northern Colorado 193 221 W, 41-0
Utah State 96 229 L, 27-20
Brigham Young 49 196 W, 24-21
Arizona State 92 117 L, 37-7
USC 95 209 L, 38-28