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No. 10 Utah loses game, Zack Moss at USC

Southern California cornerback Greg Johnson (9) picks up a Utah fumble during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Los Angeles.
Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Add another chapter to the Utah football team’s rough-to-read history book about games against USC in Los Angeles.

For the second time in the past five years, the favored and highly ranked Utes left the Los Angeles Coliseum with a disappointing defeat against an underdog Trojan squad.

The Pac-12 preseason favorite and 10th-ranked Utes began conference playoff with a thud, falling to USC 30-23 after being in a terrific position to win in Tinsel Town for the first time since 1916.

Making the loss even worse, star running back Zack Moss spent most of the game in the training room and on the sideline with his arm in a sling after suffering what appeared to be a shoulder injury in the first quarter.

The letdown was reminiscent of Utah’s 42-24 loss against a 3-3 USC team in 2015 when the Utes entered the Coliseum — a 96-year-old stadium they’ve yet to win in — as the No. 3 team in the nation.

“They were making plays and we weren’t,” Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd said in a somber postgame interview with ESPN700. “They ended up making more plays than us.”

That was especially prevalent during a pivotal stretch in the second half when USC stymied the Utes on consecutive possessions to seize control.

Sack.

Safety.

Score.

Game all but over.

Utah, which hadn’t allowed a sack in three nonconference games, was in prime position to go ahead with a touchdown after falling behind 21-10. The Utes’ promising drive, however, ended up short of pay dirt after quarterback Tyler Huntley was sacked at the 7 after being left alone in shotgun formation on a play that began at the 1-yard line.

Utah settled for a 24-yard field goal by Jadon Redding, putting the Utes behind 21-20 instead of up by three.

The Utes forced the Trojans to punt, but Utah was pinned deep in its territory and Huntley was chased down in the end zone for a devastating safety.

Fill-in QB Matt Fink and Michael Pittman Jr. connected for a 42-yard pass play on the following possession, and USC went ahead 30-20 a moment later on a 4-yard run by Markese Stepp. Fink stepped up big-time after starting quarterback Kedon Slovis left with an undisclosed injury after just two plays.

Utah answered with a field goal, but the Utes couldn’t stop USC on a critical third-down play with about two minutes remaining and the Trojans were able to run out the clock.

USC, which lost in overtime last Saturday to a BYU team that Utah beat in Week 1, improved to 2-0 in Pac-12 play with a second-straight win over a ranked team (Stanford was the other).

The Utes, a popular pick as the conference champ and Rose Bowl participant, fell to 0-1 in Pac-12 action, with a tough home matchup against No. 19 Washington State next Saturday.

“I think there were two things that killed us,” Utah receiver Britain Covey told the Utah radio station’s postgame show. “Obviously the penalties (16 for 120 yards) and then just the red zone. It seemed like we couldn’t get much going down in the 10-yard line, and that was pretty frustrating.”

It had to be even more frustrating for Moss, who watched but couldn’t do anything about it because of his injury. He only had 20 yards on six carries.

Even without their top offensive threat, Utah dominated the time of possession, 38 minutes to 22, and outgained USC 457 yards to 381.

But the Trojans were sparked by an incredible performance from Fink and Pittman. Fink, who nearly transferred from USC, threw for 351 yards and three TDs on 21-for-30 passing with one interception, with Pittman hauling in 232 yards and a touchdown.

Huntley finished with 210 yards passing (22-30) and one touchdown. He also had 60 yards rushing, ending up just a few yards shy of leading rusher Devin Brumfield (63 yards on 10 carries).

“It’s not that we didn’t play hard,” Covey said. “We played hard. We just didn’t play that smart.”

Devonta’e Henry-Cole scored his first touchdown — a 17-yarder — to even the game at 7-7 as the teams exchanged TDs in rapid-fire succession early on.

Utah tight end Cole Fotheringham also had a scoring reception from 2 yards out, making it 21-17 after Pittman’s highlight-reel-worthy 77-yard scoring haul.