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Utah earns inspired, historic victory over USC

Utah players celebrate a win over Southern California in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Utah players celebrate a win over Southern California in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LOS ANGELES — Amid a season in which so much has gone wrong — a season that has produced so much frustration and so much heartache for Utah that transcends the realm of football — a lot went right for the Utes here Saturday night.

And it all happened at an improbable place, a venue where they had never won — the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — which is to say they made some history along the way.

Yes, Utah ended its 105-year drought of losing to USC in Los Angeles (the Trojans started playing at the Coliseum 98 years ago), and it accomplished the feat in emphatic fashion, torching USC 42-26.

“I’m extremely proud of our football team. The players played with a great competitive spirit tonight,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “Passion, energy — you name it, we had it. A great job by our assistant coaches with the game planning. The players are the ones that executed and deserve all the credit.

“It’s been a long time since we won here (in Los Angeles), 100 years,” Whittingham added. “It’s a great feeling to come out of here with a win. It puts us in great position in the conference.”

With the win, Utah not only snapped a dubious losing streak that dated back to 1916, but it also maintained its perfect record in Pac-12 play, improving to 2-0 and 3-2 overall.

“It’s always a good feeling, especially when you come to a school in this area, just being from this area,” said quarterback Cam Rising. “(USC) didn’t really recruit me. It’s special. It’s been since 1916 since the last win here. That’s pretty amazing.”

USC dropped to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-12.

“It’s super special,” cornerback Clark Phillips III said of the win. “The guys played with a lot of passion. It was just good to get a victory.”

Almost two weeks after the tragic death of defensive back Aaron Lowe, the Utes turned in their best performance of the season.

“It’s a breath of fresh air after what we’ve been through to see their sheer enjoyment. That’s the best way to describe it,” Whittingham said. “They obviously had Ty (Jordan) and Aaron on their mind. That’s going to be a constant the rest of the season, just keeping their memory alive. To see them have the success they had tonight was great. I think this team needed that.”

Rising, who suffered a season-ending injury in his first career start last year against USC at Rice-Eccles Stadium, avenged that loss to the Trojans by completing 22 of 28 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns.

“Cam had an outstanding night,” Whittingham said. “He had nearly 11 yards per attempt, which is an outstanding number.”

Running back Tavion Thomas ran for 113 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while wide receiver Devaughn Vele had four catches for 84 yards and a TD and Britain Covey recorded five catches for 67 yards.

Tight ends Brant Kuithe (three receptions for 29 yards and a rushing touchdown) and Dalton Kincaid (three catches for 40 yards and a TD) played big roles as well.

In all, the Utes amassed 486 yards of total offense. USC gained 493 yards, but Utah’s defense clamped down in the red zone when it mattered most.

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis was 33 of 53 for 401 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. His star wide receiver, Drake London, finished with 16 grabs for 162 yards and a TD, but that wasn’t nearly enough on this night against the Utes.

Utah took control of the game at the end of the first half and early in the second half. Trailing 10-7 midway through the second quarter, the Utes scored 28 unanswered points.

The Utes’ uprising began when Rising threw a 42-yard strike to Theo Howard to put the Utes in USC territory with a little less than 4:48 left in the second quarter. A few plays later, Rising threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Money Parks — his first career TD for the Utes.

At the time, Utah led 14-10.

But the Utes weren’t done. After forcing a USC punt, the offense took over with one minute remaining in the half. Utah marched into Trojan territory and then came a kind of an accidental flea flicker.

With time ticking down, the Utes were going to run the ball, then stop the clock and attempt a field goal. However, the coaching staff noticed that Rising was in the wrong formation.

A timeout was called and Whittingham asked what was going on. Rising said he thought the coaches had called a flea flicker.

“I said, ‘Great call. Let’s go with it.’ I talked to (offensive coordinator) Andy (Ludwig) about it and he said, ‘Let’s go with it,” Whittingham said.

So Rising completed a 37-yard touchdown pass to Devaughn Vele on a flea flicker with 10 seconds left in the half to propel them to a 21-10 advantage at intermission.

“That was a huge momentum play. Getting that momentum going into momentum was gigantic,” Whittingham said. “Wish we could take credit for that play, but it was Cam Rising misreading the wrist band and us finding out about it and then sticking with it because it seemed like the right thing to do.”

On the Utes’ first possession of the second half, they padded their lead when Thomas scored on a 43-yard run to give Utah a commanding 28-10 lead with 12:41 left in the third quarter.

On USC’s ensuing possession, Slovis was picked off by safety Vonte Davis, who added a 26-yard return. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Trojans after the play set up the Utes again in USC territory. And the Utes cashed in on that takeaway four plays later, when Rising ran for a 17-yard touchdown.

And suddenly, Utah was up 35-10 midway through the third quarter. At that point, a bunch of Trojan fans headed for the exits.

With 10 minutes left in the game, USC ended Utah’s run of 28 unanswered points when Vavae Malepeai scored on a 2-yard run, and a successful two-point conversion attempt, to cut the deficit to 35-18.

But the outcome had long been decided.

The Utes closed out the scoring with a drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass from Rising to Kincaid. And it was 42-18 for Utah. USC scored one more touchdown in the waning moments to make the final score look less lopsided than it actually was.

For the Utes, it was a clean performance. Two weeks after fumbling seven times against Washington State, the Utes put the ball on the ground only once against USC, but it was late in the game. They didn’t commit a single turnover.

“Overall, it was a very nice win. Credit to our players, for their preparation and overcoming adversity,” Whittingham said. “We’ve had a lot on our plate the last couple of weeks. … I’m proud of the guys, that’s the bottom line. They hung in there and just played with such passion and such inspired football.”

EXTRA POINTS: Announced attendance was 54,088. … Utah is now 2-9 all-time against USC in Los Angeles. … Whittingham has won 222 total games at Utah as the head coach and as an assistant. … Jordan Noyes handled placekicking duties Saturday, replacing Jadon Redding, who had been struggling before the bye week.