After jumping out to an early touchdown lead on the No. 3 ranked Utes, the Trojans were looking like the team Las Vegas pegged as a 6.5 point pregame favorite. But following a breakdown in the secondary and some poor punt coverage, Utah quickly turned the tables and appeared to take control of the game, going up 14-7 late in the first quarter.
The USC offense was unable to put anything together on its next couple of drives and the Utes looked to be in business after blocking a punt. True freshman middle linebacker Cameron Smith had other plans.
He dropped back into coverage, watching quarterback Travis Wilson's eyes the entire time. Smith stepped in front of the receiver and picked off his first of three Wilson passes, returning it to the Utah 4-yard line and giving the Trojans a much needed boost of momentum.
To fully capitalize on Smith's huge play, the Trojans would need to punch it in the end zone. Two incomplete passes and a 3-yard Justin Davis run later, interim head coach Clay Helton had a decision to make, kick the field goal or go for it on fourth and goal from the one.
Fullback Soma Vainuku came into the game, sharing the backfield with Adoree Jackson. Cody Kessler took a rare snap from under center, turned to his right and handed Vainuku the ball. There was a stalemate at the line of scrimmage, so Vainuku went airborne and was able break the plane and tie the game.
"It felt great. Us fullbacks, we don't get much run in our offense, so when your number is called and the time comes, we have to capitalize on that," Vainuku said. "It was one of our goal line plays, I read the defense and the defensive line and saw an opening."
Calling what he went through an "opening" was generous at best, but Vainuku made the best of it.
"It was tight, that's why I jumped," he said. "Not much to it, just got to be a playmaker on times like those and it worked out good."
Though Jackson didn't get the ball he did act as a decoy, capturing the attention of the Utah defense as he drifted to the left side of the play.
"Whenever Adoree is on the field everyone is trying to look for him," Vainuku said. "You have to give everyone on offense and the offensive line credit for that touchdown."
Vainuku's stat line wasn't much to look at, one carry for one yard and that all-important touchdown. But the redshirt senior always seems to find a way to contribute.
During USC's third quarter 17-play touchdown drive that Helton said "separated" the game, Vainuku again saved the day, jumping on a Ronald Jones fumble to keep the drive alive.
Last week against Notre Dame Vainuku was only on the field for two offensive plays. He played a lot more than that against Utah and many times he was in the game at the same time as fellow fullback Jahleel Pinner as part of a three-back set.
On USC's first drive from the Utah 9-yard line Vainuku and Pinner came into the game with tailback Justin Davis. Vainuku got a key block, helping to seal the left side of the line while Pinner was out in front of Davis as he took the pitch from Kessler. Davis sprinted for the pylon, reaching the end zone almost untouched and giving the Trojans an early lead.
"Me and Jahleel like any time we can get on the field to help out our team in any way possible, that was good for us," Vainuku said. "You kind of don't know where it's really going since we're both in there, it could go either way. It is something we have in our playbook and coach Helton felt like he needed us today and we used it."
No matter how much or little Vainuku is used on offense, he always makes a big impact on special teams.
"I love it. I don't get much run on the offense, which is fine with me," he said. "Special teams are my part of the game and I always tell those guys out there you have offense, defense and special teams and it is time for us to come out here and do something.
"They didn't get any kick returns back on us, so that's good, they almost had that touchdown on punt, so that is what we have to clean up this week when we get ready for Cal.
"[Utah] is great at special teams, we knew that coming into this game. They have a great kick returner and we had to prepare for that."
Vainuku finished with one special teams tackle on kickoff coverage in the third quarter.
Stay tuned to USCFootball.com for more updates from USC's huge win over Utah.
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