LOS ANGELES (AP) — Cody Kessler passed for 164 yards and a touchdown, and the Southern California defense stifled explosive Utah State on Saturday as the Trojans topped the Aggies 17-14.
Andre Heidari’s 25-yard field goal with 13:35 remaining provided the Trojans (3-1) with the winning points.
Utah State (2-2) averaged 49.3 points, 29 first downs and 550.3 yards and converted 30 of 46 third-down opportunities in its first three games. USC held the Aggies to just 285 yards, 13 first downs and 5 of 17 third-down conversions.
Kessler completed 13 of 27 passes with one interception and Tre Madden gained 93 yards on 24 carries for the Trojans, who were held to just 282 total yards. Kessler’s 1-yard sneak on a fourth-and-inches play from the Utah State 25-yard line with two minutes remaining enabled USC to run out the clock.
Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton completed 21 of 39 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He threw for 923 yards and 12 touchdowns in his team’s first three games this season.
The victory was USC’s second straight after a disappointing 10-7 loss to Pac-12 doormat Washington State. Utah State has lost just five of its last 23 games, with the five losses coming by a total of 13 points.
Heidari, who missed a 46-yard field goal in the third quarter, kicked his game-winner six plays after Jaron Bentrude’s 12-yard punt gave the Trojans the ball at the Utah State 24-yard line.
Utah State tried a fake punt on fourth-and-11 from its 34 with 10 1/2 minutes left, but D.J. Tialavea’s pass fell incomplete. USC couldn’t take advantage, but Kris Albarado’s punt was downed at the Aggies’ 2-yard line.
Utah State was unable to pick up a first down, and USC took possession at the Aggies’ 30 after Utah State was penalized for interfering with a fair catch attempt. The Aggies held again, but they couldn’t get anything going.
The Aggies reached their 41-yard line before Keeton tried to scramble but came up 3 yards short of converting a fourth-and-9 play with 3:33 left.
Madden’s 1-yard run capped a 45-yard drive on the USC’s second possession, giving the Trojans a 7-0 lead. Utah State’s Nick Diaz hit the right upright on a 37-yard field goal attempt later in the first quarter, but the Aggies tied it early in the second period on Keeton’s 8-yard TD pass to Brandon Swindall three plays after a 55-yard run by Joey DeMartino.
Kessler found tight end Xavier Grimble wide open over the middle for a 30-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, capping a 70-yard drive and giving the Trojans a 14-7 halftime lead. The Aggies outscored their previous three opponents 90-27 in the first half.
After Heidari’s missed field goal in the third quarter, the Aggies went into a no-huddle offense and it paid off as they quickly moved 72 yards to tie the game, scoring on a 10-yard pass from Keeton to Travis Reynolds.