The notes, quotes, numbers and opinion after USC's 42-24 thumping of No. 3 -- and formerly unbeaten -- Utah Saturday.

They are indeed, as the the poet Whittier wrote, the "saddest" words "of tongue and pen . . . It might have been!"

Which is where we are today, not thinking ahead as so many will for weeks to come now with the USC coaching search taking up so many of the thoughts around here. We're thinking about what might have been.

After the sacking of Sark Monday a week ago and the two-game start for Clay Helton in his second interim coaching stint that's clearly moving in the right direction after Saturday's 42-24 thumping of unbeaten and third-ranked Utah, we're not going to speculate on how this may all turn out -- for Clay or for USC.

The future, especially one to be determined by an undetermined process and still undetermined principals whose own future may be in doubt, doesn't seem all that productive.

But let's look back here and learn from it. Let's look back to Salute To Troy and the consequences of that opportunity missed. Having badly mis-hired with Steve Sarkisian, USC had a chance in August to do right by this team and Sark and separate him from USC and an environment that was clearly taking him down.

But Sark wasn't the real issue, USC football was -- and is. How much better for USC football now had the people with the power just gone ahead and done the right thing. Send Sark off to get the help he so badly needed and have the courage to, once again, turn to Helton.

That would have taken guts. And leadership. And the willingness to admit a mistake and take the flak from a fan base excited about the season and not excited to see the head coach sidelined. But it would have been the right thing to do.

Now we can see the impact of a real professional, a focused football coach who has the team on his side and has them doing the things they do best and doing so with enthusiasm and force and physicality. Spend some time with Trojan players right now and they'll quickly tell you about how different the last two weeks have been.

"It's been tough," Cody Kessler said. "These guys have been pushed to the limit. Thank God for this guy [Helton]. He's kept us together. He preaches family and we've stuck together. It's a great win but we expect to do that."

And all we can think of is how different the last nine weeks would have been had USC made the right call in August. Helton would have had nearly two weeks before the opener, then two opening games to get up to speed for Stanford, a clearly winnable home game against a Cardinal team that didn't find its footing until it found an uncertain USC team in its path.

Then came Washington. Can anyone possibly think that with Helton at the helm, USC doesn't win that game. Just that game alone and USC is tied with Utah in the Pac-12 South and owns the tiebreaker. How different does that make this season?

The Notre Dame game? Was this USC team that played Utah significantly better than the team in South Bend a week ago? It was. Had Helton had more than three actual practices to get ready for the Irish, how does that game turn out? You can make the case that you coud flip that loss to a win. We say "could." But that's all you can ask.

But what about Sark, you say, shunted aside in this scenario to a rehab stint of unknown duration? Well, he'd be in a far better place than he is now, neither fired nor disgraced for his actions Notre Dame week. He'd have a chance to rebuild his life and career after taking care of his issues away from a team and players he was clearly damaging, as unintentional as it was.

If only . . . which may be just as sad a thing to say as "it might have been."

Injury report

Toa Lobendahn limped off the field on a half-crutch but with no support, tape or brace on his left knee. Said it's probably a sprain . . . Tyler Petite had a boot on his right foot and after X-raying it Saturday, said they'll give it another look today . . . Marvel Tell said they're not sure yet on his clavicle issue but had no sling on and was moving freely . . . Taylor McNamara had his right arm in a sling for what Clay said was a separated shoulder . . . clearly Tre Madden's sore knee that kept him from practicing and made him a gametime decision didn't come around and that decision was no . . . and Chad Wheeler was in street clothes with a concussion obviously worse than the "minor" symptoms described from last Sunday.



With 82,000 tickets out, it was obvious a number of fans stayed home to watch on TV. Best way to handle that is to play the game the way the Trojans played it against Utah and make them wish they were there.

8 for 8

Clay Helton was the eighth straight USC head coach to win his first game coached in the Coliseum. Maybe this is what the Vegas oddsmakers knew.

2 for 2

USC became the first nonranked AP team to beat a top three AP-ranked team since another unranked USC team, in the 1975 Liberty Bowl, beat No. 2 Texas A&M. The last time USC beat a an AP team ranked No. 3 or higher came in the 2007 when the No. 8 Trojans knocked off No. 3 Michigan, 32-18.


Maybe this is also what the oddsmakers knew. That's USC's all-time record against AP No. 3 teams (7-0 in bowl games, 4-1 at home, 0-1 on the road). Pretty amazing when you think about it.


Not the score of this game but the 42 points USC scored were the most Utah has given up in this season when the previous high allowed by the Utes was 24.

5 of 6, 100 plus

For the fifth time in the last six games and seventh time in his career, Juju Smith-Schuster finished with more than 100 receiving yards -- 143 on eight catches.

4 for 34, 5 for 49

USC still had more penalties and penalty yards (5 for 49) than seldom flagged Utah (4 for 34) but it was close and far better than the double digit numbers of a week ago in South Bend.

7 for 7

Despite not starting the game with the ball, USC still managed to score first for the seventh straight game.

20 of 21

USC has scored in 20 of the last 21 first quarters.

3 in 1991

The last Trojan to come up with three interceptions in a game prior to Cameron Smith's effort Saturday was Jason Oliver who did it in 1991 against Penn State.

4 on the floor

The last time USC scored four TDs on the ground the way Ronald Jones, Cody Kessler, Soma Vainuku and Justin Davis did was back in 2009 against San Jose State.


CODY KESSLER on "the one thing I'm most proud of -- the offensive line. Toa [Lobendahn] went down and [Khaliel] Rodgers went in and played amazing, like he was a starter all year. Those guys don't blink. They go in and are physical."

CLAY HELTON on the repeated calls that his USC team wasn't physical enough: "Believe me, we thank you all for that. We've been reading it and addressed it in the meetings. These guys want to prove to everyone what kind of team they are . . . We had some big third downs and critical fourth down makes at the goal line -- Cody's quarterback sneak and Soma going in there, if that's not physical, what is?"

UTAH COACH KYLE WHITTINGHAM on rest of the season: "We still have a one-game lead in the Pac-12 South loss column. All is not lost."

HELTON on USC holding on to a halftime lead: "We talked about it at halftime and told them: 'Enjoy the taste you have right now, you'll want it after the game. To make third downs to run the drive, that really capped it. I thought that long drive in the third quarter was good for us. That was a complete drive that I thought separated the game."

UTAH'S Travis Wilson on what happened: "They (USC) played good defense and had a lot of great athletes on their team . . . but I have to make better decisions."

CAMERON SMITH: On the impact of his interceptions: "Any time a big play happens, the whole team feels it. Credit to the whole team, the offense went well and the defensive line played the best they've ever played."

UTAH ROVER Gionni Paul: On the success of the USC passing game: "JuJu is a great player and he caught us in some bad coverages and their offensive line handled the blitzes and they ran some pick routes and just gashed us."

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