It was not much of a surprise, really, Utah stopping itself from having any kind of a chance against a decent USC team on Saturday at the Coliseum. It's becoming fairly clear: The Utes don't win Pac-12 road games. Losing their eighth league roadie in 11 tries, this time by the count of 19-3, they might have done better here had their offense not disemboweled itself in front of the 64,715 people on hand.
Speaking of hands, Travis Wilson's must be hurting him. Has to be. It sure pained his offense against a tough Trojan D. Wilson threw two picks and fumbled once, each turnover resulting in USC scores. When Adam Schulz replaced Wilson near the close of the first half, he, too, threw an interception that led to a Trojan field goal.
Those mistakes, to paraphrase Kyle Whittingham, lowered the Utes into their grave.
"It kills you," he said.
Giving everything away, taking nothing back.
The Utes caused no turnovers, but their defense fought fiercely from start to finish, trying to keep the Utes alive. But the sound side of the Titanic couldn't keep the gashed side afloat.
"The defense played really well," Whittingham said. "That's about it."
Both defenses played well, but the offenses, especially Utah's, just plain blew. All told, the Trojans gained 260 yards, the Utes 201. Utah threw for 130 yards and ran for 71.
"In the first half, the defense was put in some bad spots," classy defensive end Trevor Reilly said. That's all he would say, refusing to rip the guys on the other side of the ball, despite being within his rights to have done so. Instead, he said: "Losing sucks."
The Utes would know.
Having hit a height and plumbed a depth in the previous two weeks of Pac-12 play, all on the tail of going subterranean in two league home losses, Utah found little life left in them against USC. Coming in for the Utes it was, as Utah sheep ranchers used to call the most important stretch on the calendar, nut-cutting time.
The problem for Utah was this: Nut-cutting is tough to do with a sprained finger, even a sprained finger with a protective glove on it.
As has been the case in nearly every game this season, the Utes' success was cupped in the hand of Wilson. When he's been good, they've had a shot at victory, even against a team like Stanford. When he's bad, they get thumped by Arizona and USC.
Against the Trojans, Wilson's role was more critical than usual on account of facing a defensive front that ranks in the top 25 in rushing D. No way was Bubba Poole (19 yards) or Lucky Radley (17) or Kelvin York (21) going to carry the Ute offense to a win not without a softening of that front by … well, You-Know-Who. It didn't happen and it didn't happen.
Wilson hit 5 of 14 passes for 51 yards and the 2 interceptions and 1 fumble. When Schulz replaced him, he completed 7 of 17 throws and 1 pick. It was the first time since 2010 Utah failed to score a TD.
"I wasn't playing well enough," Wilson said. "I needed to make better throws. … I put this game on myself."
He wouldn't fill out the picture, but the sophomore starter has to be hurt. He said he was 80 percent. A quarterback doesn't go from sending the ball in victory to precise pinpoints with the flick of a wrist to lobbing the ball all over creation, putting up two of the worst QB performances in recent memory and that's saying something when it's the Utes in consecutive outings, completing a combined 8 balls in 23 attempts with 4 interceptions. Ironically, Utah, now staring down Arizona State at home and Oregon on the road, finds itself at 4-4 overall, 1-4 in league and sprawled out in the very predicament Whittingham was so optimistic about avoiding before the season started having turmoil at quarterback.
"We need to do some soul-searching offensively," he said.
Translation: "We need to find a quarterback who can throw a football as though it weren't a bag of peat moss."
The difference between a bad season and a mediocre one now being the stakes.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.