LOS ANGELES — It was a decision that ultimately proved costly.
As USC held a late three-point lead in last season’s meeting against Utah, the Trojans faced a fourth-and-3 at the Utes’ 37-yard line.
With little more than five minutes left, the Trojans had an opportunity to pick up a first down and run more seconds off the game clock in an effort to preserve a potential road win. But instead, Coach Clay Helton called for a punt. Chris Tilbey pinned it inside the Utes’ 10-yard line, but Utah regained possession and ultimately drove 93 yards to score the winning touchdown.
In the weeks afterward, Helton expressed no regrets about the decision, though the Trojans’ third loss ultimately cost them a potential berth in the College Football Playoff.
Asked again about the decision this week, with a rematch with the Utes set for Saturday, Helton did not double down, nor did he lament punting late in the game, but suggested how his fourth-down approach had evolved. He is now more apt to go for it.
“As you gain confidence as a coach in those situations, yeah, you go for it more,” Helton said. “That’s why I’ve done it a lot this year already.”
Through six games, USC has gone for it on fourth down eight times, an average of 1.3 fourth-down attempts per game, a slight uptick.
Last season, Helton had the Trojans go for it on 14 fourth downs in 13 games, an average of 1.1 attempts per game.
“I try to lean toward the aggressive side, especially offensively,” he said.
Helton has also dealt with other circumstances this season that have left him more apt to go for it on fourth down, including a more experienced quarterback with Sam Darnold, and a new kicker, freshman walk-on Chase McGrath. USC’s defense also has more upperclassmen, a more experienced unit that is more adept at defending a shorter field.
NO TRIAL FOR MASINA
Former USC linebacker Osa Masina plead guilty on Thursday to three misdemeanor charges of sexual battery in Salt Lake City.