Utah football routs USC, snapping 106-year winless streak in Los Angeles

Utes were 0-8 all-time vs. USC at the LA Coliseum

Utah tight end Brant Kuithe (80) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Britain Covey during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Southern California, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Los Angeles • The University of Utah football team took the emotion, the sadness, and the frustration of the last two weeks, and took all of it out on USC.

Playing in their first game since the shooting death of sophomore cornerback Aaron Lowe on Sept. 26, the Utes scored five touchdowns on their first seven drives, while the defense cranked up the intensity for long stretches after a spotty start for a decisive 42-26 win at the LA Coliseum.

The win marks Utah’s first win in the city of Los Angeles since 1916, seven years before the Coliseum opened. The Utes had been 0-8 all-time vs. USC at the Coliseum, including 0-5 as a member of the Pac-12 dating back to 2011.

“I’m proud of the guys, that’s the bottom line, I’m so proud of them,” Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “They hung in there and just played with such passion, such inspired football.”

Added freshman cornerback Clark Phillips III: “It’s super special. I feel like the guys played with a lot of passion, you know, with the recent events that took place and it was just good to get a victory, man. It was special to us and I’m just glad we came out of here victorious.”

By the time halftime arrived, Utah (3-2, 2-0 Pac-12 South) was in control. By the 9:12 mark of the third quarter, the game was effectively over.

The Utes opened the second half by going 75 yards in just five plays as a basic up-the-middle run call to Tavion Thomas wound up going 43 yards for a score and a 28-10 lead following Jordan Noyes’s extra point.

Thomas finished with 116 yards and the touchdown on 16 carries, re-stating his case for an expanded role after problems with ball security early in the season sent Whittingham looking elsewhere in the running backs room for consistency.

“It was a great win, it just felt good to be back out there,” Thomas said. “I felt like we were clicking as a team, the energy was just crazy. I felt the vibe from the guys, they lifted me up, and we just kept rolling.”

Utah’s defense gave up 493 total yards, including 401 through the air to Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis, all of which is too much for Whittingham’s liking. That said, from early in the second quarter to late in the third quarter, Utah’s defense was dialed in, yielding nothing substantial as Cam Rising got comfortable at the wheel of Utah’s offense.

On fourth-and-8 from the Utah 35-yard line, Slovis tried to fit a pass to the left side through heavy traffic, only to have Vonte Davis intercept it at the 15 and return it to the 45. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on USC star wide receiver Drake London after the play set up Utah on the Trojans 45.

Utah proceeded to go 40 yards in four plays, capped by Rising’s 17-yard touchdown run on a third-and-1 keeper, in which he broke two tackles before extending his right arm into the end zone while spinning. Another Noyes extra point extended Utah to a 35-10 lead with 9:12 left in the third quarter.

Rising, starting on the road for the first time in his career, finished 22-for-28 for 306 yards and four total touchdowns, including three through the air.

“It’s always a good feeling, especially when you come to a school in this area, being from this area, and they didn’t really recruit me, so it’s a special feeling to get that especially after, I think 1916 was the last win here,” said Rising, who grew up in Ventura, roughly an hour outside Los Angeles. “That’s pretty amazing.”

Already up, 14-10, late in the first half, Utah forced a punt, but did so without calling timeout on third or fourth down to extend the first half. Not doing so appeared questionable, as did some of the play-calling on the ensuing drive, but the payoff on that ensuing drive is all anyone is going to remember.

On fourth-and-1 from the Trojans 37-yard line, Rising handed off to TJ Pledger, who tossed the ball back to Rising. The fourth-year sophomore immediately lofted a pass down the middle to Devaughn Vele, who got behind his defender, then beat two more for a flea-flicker touchdown in front of the stunned Coliseum crowd.

Rising finished the first half 12-for-15 for 180 yards and two touchdown passes as the Utes took a 21-10 lead to the locker room. This, despite USC running 14 more plays and having a time of possession advantage of nearly 2-to-1.