5 min read

The Pig King’s Coronation

Something happened last night that I still can’t believe.
The Pig King’s Coronation
Photo by Pascal Debrunner / Unsplash

Something happened last night that I still can’t believe.

It wasn’t Utah winning in the Coliseum, somewhere they’ve now won twice in 100 years. It wasn’t the emergence of Sione Vaki, a Travis Hunter-esque two-way threat for the Utes, who led the team in receiving yards (149 yards on 5 receptions) and rushing yards per carry (7.2 yards per carry on 9 rushes).

It wasn’t even QB3 on the depth chart, pig farmer, and absolute warrior Bryson Barnes, still undefeated as a Utah starter, outdueling the best quarterback and offense in the Pac-12, if not in college football.

And yes, Caleb Williams is still the best quarterback in the conference, the country, and will still be the number one pick in the upcoming draft. He will also still not get partial ownership of a team.

What I couldn’t believe last night was what we saw from QB3 on the depth chart, pig farmer, and absolute warrior Bryson Barnes in the final drive of the game, with only 1:46 left to steal back the game from USC, cementing Bryson Barnes’ legendary status among Utah fans.

Utah started the game with the ball, and after back-to-back run plays to JaQuinden Jackson, Bryson Barnes opened his second game of the season perfectly, with a 53 yard touchdown throw to Sione Vaki, the new tip of this Utah spear, on his very first throw of the game. The same throw that fell just over Vaki’s fingertips last week against Cal at home this time was caught in stride and Utah stole an early lead. 

In hindsight, that throw and that early lead were massive. Going up early and easily on the road against the team showed that they could do what we knew they would have to, which is to move the ball and score against Alex Grinch’s talented, fast, yet average defense. 

USC would answer with a couple of touchdowns, and to avoid falling behind early, something that could have easily gotten away from them, Bryson Barnes and the Utah offense answered. The Utes answered USC’s second touchdown with one of their own on the very next drive, a 10 yard touchdown run from – who else? – Bryson Barnes, his second touchdown of four total touchdowns for Barnes on the night. The touchdown would be the last score of the half for either team, and the Utes and Trojans went into halftime tied at 14-14.

After the Utah defense opened with a three-and-out, Caleb Williams and the Trojans were forced to punt back to the opening-drive perfectionist. Bryson Barnes and the Utes took over, and Barnes threw for a perfect 3-3 with 35 yards, including a 6 yard touchdown pass to Landen King, Bryson’s third touchdown of the night.

A fumble gave Utah an opportunity for another short field, where Barnes (2-2 with 32 total yards and a touchdown pass), Vaki (touchdown reception and highlight play cut), and Jackson (26 yard run to set up the touchdown pass) would put the Utes up 28-14, which didn’t feel insurmountable, but put Utah in a fantastic position with its stellar defensive performance so far, coach TKO in favor of Kyle Whittingham. On the next drive, after an offensive pass interference penalty removed a USC touchdown, Utah held Williams and USC to a field goal, and it felt as though the only team that could lose this game for Utah, was Utah.

On the third play of Utah’s next drive, all of that changed when Bryson Barnes made his first mistake of the night – a huge mistake – when he threw a late, ill-advised pass toward Calen Bullock, who saw it the entire way, picked it off, and easily returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. Utah was twice USC’s score at 28-14 and in 5 plays it was suddenly 28-23 (USC failed its 2-pt conversion attempt). 

Barnes and Vaki answered on the following drive with a long pass down the sideline and another Vaki run, which ultimately ended in an important Cole Becker field goal, which he made easily from the left hash. Utah had the largest one-score lead you can have with just under 5 minutes to play. 

What happened in the next 3:13 felt like an inevitable, quick dagger from the Trojans, who are simply too talented and can score too quickly to let hang around. A Trojan drive that ended in a field goal felt like a small victory, but the subsequent Utah three-and-out would prove disastrous after Utah punted to Zachariah Branch, who returned it to Utah’s 11 yard line with less than two  minutes to play. 

When Caleb Williams easily slid into the endzone on the Trojans first play, and USC took the lead with 1:46 to go, the game was over. No matter the remaining probability, or the proof Bryson Barnes and the offense had provided throughout the game that they were not only capable of scoring on this team, but doing it quickly and efficiently, or even the magic of Sione Vaki, who was left on the sideline for the final drive, could have cured my hopelessness for the Utes in that moment. The Coliseum was too much. Zachariah Branch was too much. Caleb Williams was too much. Lincoln Riley and Alex Grinch were so decidedly outcoached by Kyle Whittingham, Andy Ludwig, and Morgan Scalley that it would be disingenuous to say that the USC coaching staff was too much, but they were unable to be overcome nonetheless. 

Unfortunately for USC, nobody told Bryson Barnes.

What Bryson Barnes did next was not pick apart USC’s defense and win the game single-handedly. What he did next was not sexy. None of the best hero stories are. Rather, what he did next was put his body on the line in the biggest moments, and use his legs to stun me, the crowd, and Brock Huard. Bryson Barnes put the team on his back and went 56 yards in 9 plays, with two critical runs of 13 and 26 yards, and after a dead-center Cole Becker 38-yard field goal, came home undefeated against the Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams era Trojans, giving Utah a four game win streak against USC overall.

At the end of last week’s newsletter we asked if Utah could beat USC without its king, Cam Rising.

A [26] yard scramble with seconds left to set up the game-winning field goal. Behold your king.

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