Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham made the correct choice by going for the two-point conversion – and the win — against No. 13 USC.
I realize that this opinion won’t sit well with a lot of Utah fans. After all, the Ute defense came into the game ranked 22nd nationally in scoring defense, 21st in total defense, and 19th in yards per play. With numbers like that, it would seem like a no-brainer to kick the PAT and trust that the defense would come up with a stop in overtime.
While that logic would make sense 99% of the time, it didn’t hold true against USC. Sure, Utah held the Trojans’ high-octane attack to just seven points in the first half, but the second half was a completely different story. USC’s offense came to life on their first possession of the third quarter, marching 98 yards in 16 plays. The Trojans went 4-for-4 on third down conversions and 1-for-1 on fourth-down conversions during that drive. Even when the Utes were in position to come up with a stop, USC managed to keep the chains moving.
This trend continued into the fourth quarter, as the Trojans mounted 11-play scoring drives of 88 and 93 yards to take the lead. The latter of the two was especially frustrating for the Utah defense as it had USC in a third-and-10 situation from their own seven-yard line, only to watch Sam Darnold run for 14 yards to pick up the first down.
That backbreaking run made it crystal clear that Utah’s defense wasn’t going to come up with the crucial stop it needed to win this contest. It spent most of the second half on the gridiron and was simply out of gas. Overtime would only wear the defense down even more.
The only way that the Utes were going to win the game was to do so in regulation.
Utah had to like its chances. Remember, Troy Williams led the team to a victory over USC on the final drive last season, tossing a touchdown to Tim Patrick for the win. Considering that he was able to pick up two fourth-down conversions against the Trojan defense last year, there was no reason to think that he couldn’t take the team two yards for the deciding score again in 2017.
It’s also worth noting that Utah had the right play called. Yes, USC took away the throwback that was the first option on the play. However, Darren Carrington was wide open in the back of the end zone. If Williams had another split second to throw the ball, the Utes win the game.
Even though it didn’t work out, you have to tip your cap to Whittingham for having the guts to go for it. He didn’t go into the Coliseum looking for a moral victory: he wanted to leave with a “W”.
The only way to do that was by going for the two-point conversion.