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Matt Kalil steps up to save a win for USC

The 6-foot-7 offensive lineman blocks Utah's last-minute field-goal attempt to help secure a 23-14 victory over the Utes.

September 10, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • USC lineman Matt Kalil rises to block a field-goal attempt by Utah in the final seconds on Saturday night at the Coliseum.
USC lineman Matt Kalil rises to block a field-goal attempt by Utah in the… (Wally Skalkij / Los Angeles…)

Matt Kalil stands 6 feet 7 and is regarded as one of the top offensive linemen in college football.

The junior left tackle also stands to make millions if he comes out at the end of this season to enter the NFL draft.

Kalil added to his impressive resume Saturday, blocking a last-minute field-goal attempt to preserve USC's 23-14 victory over Utah in the Pacific 12 Conference opener at the Coliseum.

"I'm lucky I'm a tall guy," Kalil said.

So is USC.

Kalil's block — his second of the season — helped USC overcome three turnovers and multiple ill-timed penalties en route to its second less-than-impressive victory.

The former Anaheim Servite High player also blocked a field-goal attempt last week against Minnesota.

"I'm two for two, baby!" he said.

USC actually picked up six points after the final gun.

The game ended with the score 17-14 after game officials disallowed Torin Harris' 65-yard touchdown return of the blocked kick. Officials announced that they had assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty against USC, erasing Harris' touchdown, but the block stood.

But two hours after the game ended, the Pac-12 overruled game officials, crediting USC with the touchdown and no doubt sending Las Vegas bookmakers who had paid out winners into a fit: USC was a 8½-point favorite.

The jubilant play ended a sloppy effort by a team that was hoping to play consistently well after a two-point victory over a Big Ten Conference doormat.

USC Coach Lane Kiffin, in fact, had turned to Twitter the day before the game, writing: "First ever PAC-12 football game tomorrow . . . expecting great effort and execution from our team for the full game!"

It didn't turn out that way. Quarterback Matt Barkley had a pass intercepted, and tailback D.J. Morgan and tight end Xavier Grimble lost fumbles that led to Utah's touchdowns.

Usually, those plays would draw the postgame ire of Kiffin. But the second-year coach was uncharacteristically upbeat.

"I'm excited that it finished that way," Kiffin said. "I think that was important for this team. That kind of energy and emotion brings teams together. I'm actually glad the way it happened."

On a day when the offense stalled and committed major errors, USC's defense stifled Utah five times in the fourth quarter.

"We had so many chances to put the game away," said Barkley, who passed for 264 yards and a touchdown. "Our defense really won the game for us."

USC's defensive linemen batted away multiple passes, freshmen linebackers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey made stops on crucial third- and fourth-down plays, and junior safety T.J. McDonald recovered a first-quarter fumble that set up USC's first touchdown.

It was scored on a short run by Marc Tyler that put the Trojans ahead, 10-0.

Tyler, the team's leading rusher last season, returned from a suspension and ran for 113 yards in 24 carries.

"This is something I dreamed about doing, to come back and be an impact to the team," Tyler said. "I feel like I owed the team and the fans and the coaches."

"It's great to have him back on this team, and it shows," said receiver Robert Woods, who caught eight passes for 102 yards.

USC led, 10-7, at halftime and extended the lead on its first possession of the third quarter when Barkley connected with Grimble for a nine-yard touchdown pass.

But Grimble's fumble on USC's next possession set the stage for a 51-yard gain on a reverse by Utah receiver Reggie Dunn. Running back John White IV, formerly of South Torrance High and Harbor College, ran the ball across the goal line, pulling the Utes to within 17-14 in their Pac-12 debut.

"We never had a situation where we felt overmatched or overwhelmed in any form," Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Utah had the ball at its 33-yard line with one minute left.

USC thought it had the game won when officials initially ruled that Utah receiver DeVonte Christopher had come up short of a first down on a fourth-and-10 play with 35 seconds left. But the play was reviewed and after the ball was re-spotted, the Utes were credited with a first down.

A pass interference penalty against cornerback Tony Burnett moved the ball to the Trojans' 24, where Utah's field-goal unit rushed onto the field for a 41-yard attempt by Coleman Petersen.

Kalil said he "shot the gap" and batted the ball down.

"I was thinking, 'I can only imagine if I block this kick to win the game,'" Kalil said. "It's crazy."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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