The first time Utah's football team visited Los Angeles, the USC Trojans' performance received harsh reviews.
The Salt Lake Telegram said USC's “offense was pitifully weak and this, coupled with their rotten tackling, enabled Utah to keep possession of the ball practically all the time.”
The Trojans improved after that 27-12 defeat at Fiesta Park in downtown Los Angeles in 1916. And the Utes haven’t won since then in the city — not even against UCLA, during the Bruins’ era of playing in the Coliseum before moving to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
“I guess everybody's entitled to a bad decade,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, “or a bad century.”
NO. 10 UTAH AT USC
When • Friday, 7 p.m. MST
TV • FS1
Whittingham is responsible for this decade’s defeats. His teams have lost to USC in all four visits to the Coliseum since joining the Pac-12. The century-long streak is mythologized, though. Utah played at USC only four other times, most recently in 1948, before becoming a conference rival in 2011.
Even so, accounts of Friday's game will mention the 103-year drought, one way or another. And if the No. 10 Utes lose again, “105” will come into play in two years.
The Utes have had their chances to break through in this decade, from having a tying field goal blocked in 2011 to failing on a winning 2-point conversion attempt in 2017.
Utah's football games in Los Angeles:
1916 – Utah 27, USC 12.
1919 – USC 28, Utah 7.
1925 – USC 28, Utah 2.
1932 – USC 35, Utah 0.
1933 – UCLA 21, Utah 0.
1948 – USC 27, Utah 0.
1956 – UCLA 13, Utah 7.
1959 – UCLA 21, Utah 6.
1973 – UCLA 66, Utah 16.
2011 – USC 23, Utah 14.
2013 – USC 19, Utah 13.
2015 – USC 42, Utah 24.
2017 – USC 28, Utah 27.
(Note: USC moved into the Coliseum in 1923; UCLA played in the Coliseum from 1933-82, before moving to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.).
It will be a good story whenever Whittingham wins in the Coliseum. As a 5-year-old, he watched his father play in the historic stadium for the Los Angeles Rams. He has “vague, fleeting memories” of those days. His recent experiences include “not a lot of pleasant moments,” he said, “but some unpleasant ones.” A look back:
In the second week of the season, the Utes could have forced overtime in their Pac-12 debut by kicking a 41-yard field goal. They “botched” it, to use Whittingham's word this week.
With 11 seconds to play, Utah for some reason had its field goal team hurry onto the field and rush the process — even though the clock was stopped. Coleman Petersen’s low kick was blocked, preserving USC’s 17-14 win. The Trojans returned the ball for a touchdown, nullified by a penalty for players running onto the field. An hour after the game, though, the ruling was adjusted and the TD counted: USC 23, Utah 14.
Regardless, the Utes had blown their opportunity for a breakthrough victory. The offense had five possessions in the fourth quarter, trailing by three points. Utah netted 30 yards on those 20 plays.
This game, a 19-3 defeat, is the only time in this decade when the Utes never really were in position to win.
Utah had upset No. 5 Stanford two weeks earlier (before losing at Arizona), and USC was reeling, having replaced Lane Kiffin with interim coach Ed Orgeron. The Utes' offense struggled, as quarterback Travis Wilson tried to play with a hand injury before Adam Schulz took over.
Utah posted 201 total yards against USC and would lose three more games in a row, finishing 5-7 and missing a bowl game for the second straight season.
The Utes were 6-0 and ranked No. 3; USC was 3-3, with another interim coach after Clay Helton replaced Steve Sarkisian. But the Trojans responded with a 42-24 victory, fueled by linebacker Cameron Smith's three interceptions of Wilson's passes.
Whittingham recalls “throwing three interceptions to the same linebacker,” including one that Smith returned for a touchdown in a tie game just prior to halftime.
“I just remember being up 14-7 with the ball, and then it all went downhill,” said Ute receiver Britain Covey, then a freshman. “That was a frustrating game … too many mistakes.”
Covey, though, caught seven passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
Surprisingly, as he quickly recounted his Coliseum experience, Whittingham didn't mention this game. It's one that got away from Utah, in multiple ways.
The Utes led 21-7 at halftime as Ute receiver Demari Simpkins threw a touchdown pass to quarterback Troy Williams (filling in for an injured Tyler Huntley) on a trick play and caught a TD pass. Williams ran for the other score.
In the second half, USC quarterback Sam Darnold led scoring drives of 98, 88 and 93 yards as the Trojans moved ahead 28-21. Williams and the Utes responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive. With 42 seconds remaining, Whittingham ordered a 2-point try instead of playing for overtime, in a decision that was widely praised — even after the play didn’t work.
The primary target was covered, so Williams scrambled to his right, while failing to see Darren Carrington II in the back of the end zone. Williams was tackled a yard short of the goal line, in his last meaningful play as Utah's QB.
“Wide open,” Whittingham said in a news conference two days later, with Williams in the room. “The play was there … just missed him.”
And the Utes were left wishing they could make history in Los Angeles, once again.