Los Angeles • Utah’s Coliseum Curse lives.
The No. 10 Utes hopes of a breakthrough victory unraveled from start to finish Friday night, as USC rode three touchdown passes from former third-string quarterback Matt Fink to a 30-23 win.
Disregarding how Utah's last victory in Los Angeles came in 1916, predating the Coliseum, five losses in the historic venue in this decade all have been devastating in different ways. The latest episode leaves Utah (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) fighting to catch USC (3-1, 2-0) in the Pac-12 South.
“It's just disappointing,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We've come so close, so many times down here.”
Ute safety Terrell Burgess, whose third-quarter interception gave the Utes some hope when they trailed 21-10, predicted that “nobody in the South will go undefeated” in conference play. It's also true that USC owns the tiebreaker over Utah and would have to lose twice, even if the win their remaining eight games. That seems just as unlikely.
The Utes never led Friday, even while twice getting to the USC 2-yard line or deeper with chances to go ahead, and turned 457 total yards into only 23 points. Even with Moss contributing only 20 yards before being hurt, the Utes rushed for 247 yards. Usually, when that happens, Whittingham said, “We just don't lose.”
Utah had one last shot after Jadon Redding's third field goal made it 30-23 with 4:01 left. Stunningly, though, USC's running game came to life and the Trojans used up all of the clock by picking up two first downs.
For anyone needing more proof of a hex against Utah in Los Angeles, the supporting evidence came in doses and in critical moments.
In the first half alone, the Utes gave up touchdown passes on USC's first two drives, lost star running back Zack Moss to a shoulder injury, had a field goal blocked, got stopped on fourth down and fumbled on a play that started at the USC 2-yard line.
To start the fourth quarter, Utah settled for a field goal after reaching the USC 1. The Utes cut the lead to 21-20, but fell apart after that.
USC held a 14-10 halftime lead, a score that would have seemed shockingly low after the teams combined to score three touchdowns on their first three drives of the game.
USC 30, NO. 10 UTAH 23
• No. 10 Utah gives up touchdown passes on USC’s first two drives and never leads in a 30-23 loss at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
• USC’s Matt Fink replaces and injured Kedon Slovis and passes for 351 yards.
• The Utes are 0-5 in the Coliseum in the Pac-12 era and haven’t won in Los Angeles since 1916.
The Trojans appeared to be in trouble when starting quarterback Kedon Slovis exited with an injury on the second play. Fink responded with long completions that fueled USC's two scoring drives, including his 31-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown after avoiding the blitz of Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd.
“We weren't ready, man,” said Ute safety Julian Blackmon, speaking for the secondary.
The Utes lost Moss in the first half with what was reported to be a shoulder injury, although Devonta’e Henry-Cole and Devin Brumfield filled in well and Huntley did a good job of getting out of trouble and scrambling for yardage. Utah was in position to take a halftime lead, but Brumfield lost a fumble on a first-and-goal play from the USC 2.
Utah finished the half with 284 total yards and never punted, yet scored only 10 points. USC stayed ahead, even while netting minus-12 rushing yards.
In the third quarter, Fink lofted a long pass that Michael Pittman Jr. grabbed in between defensive backs Tareke Lewis and Blackmon and ran for a 77-yard touchdown.
But then Burgess' interception led to Huntley's 2-yard TD pass to Cole Fotheringham, making it 21-17.
Utah again was positioned to go ahead, but couldn't find the end zone from the 1-yard line. Jadon Redding's field goal made it 21-20, but the Trojans scored a safety when Huntley was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. USC added a touchdown drive, fueled by a 42-yard completion. Fink finished with 351 yards passing.
Whittingham was mystified about how his defensive backs “couldn't locate the ball” and were “a little disoriented,” even while seemingly being in good position.
So the Utes again have failed to win in the Coliseum. What's next? Utah will have to beat Washington State next Saturday to avoid another 0-2 start in Pac-12 play, after falling to the Cougars in the same scheduling slot last season.
It is either healthy or frightening that the Utes will face another pass-happy team next week. Whittingham and defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley gave up on exclusively man-to-man coverage, mixed in zone looks and had more success after those first two drives, although they still allowed some big plays. “As coaches, we've got to do better,” Whittingham said.
Ever since the Pac-12 schedule was announced last December, the Utes' 2019 conference opener became a major checkpoint. If the Utes could beat USC in the Coliseum for once, they would establish themselves as the South's overwhelming favorites and gain even more national stature.
But that didn’t happen Friday. USC’s talent proved to be too much, especially when the Utes cooperated as much as they did. If last October’s game at Rice-Eccles Stadium was shocking because of Utah’s statistical dominance, this game served to restore some order to the state of the Pac-12 South. The Trojans looked just enough like the USC of old, and Utah missed an opportunity to assert itself in the conference.