LOS ANGELES (ABC4 Sports) – The curse of the Coliseum lives on.
Michael Pittman Jr. caught 10 passes for a career-high 232 yards and a touchdown from third-string quarterback Matt Fink, who passed for 351 yards in USC’s 30-23 victory over No. 10 Utah on Friday night.
Utah still has yet to win in the Coliseum, and has not beaten the Trojans in Los Angeles since 1916.
“It’s just disappointing,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We’ve come so close, so many times down here. Mostly we had no answer for their receiving corps. Michael Pittman did a number on us. We just didn’t do a good enough job on him. We’ve got to rethink some things coaching-wise.”
Fink, a junior who nearly transferred last spring, went 21 of 30 with three touchdown passes for USC (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12) after taking over when freshman Kedon Slovis left with an undisclosed injury on the second play of the game. Fink mostly looked sharp as the third quarterback to play important snaps in four games for the Trojans, who lost starter J.T. Daniels to a season-ending knee injury in their opener.
“I don’t think this moment was too big for me,” Fink said. “I’ve been in the era of Sam Darnold, and I’ve seen things that are much crazier. Getting in today and showing what I can do is what I really wanted to do by staying here.”
“Going into this game we expected them to pass, but towards the tail end they started to run and we just have to adjust,” said Utah linebacker Francis Bernard. “Overall in the game, collectively as a defense, we just didn’t adjust well when we needed to and unfortunately that hurt us.”
Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Pittman all caught TD passes from Fink, while Pittman had the fifth-biggest receiving yardage game in USC history. His remarkable 42-yard catch in the fourth quarter eventually led to a 4-yard TD run by Markese Stepp, who celebrated by handing the ball to Reggie Bush, the Trojans great attending the game as a broadcaster despite his NCAA-mandated disassociation from his school.
The Utes played the final three quarters without leading rusher Zack Moss, who went down with a shoulder injury.
“Yeah we definitely missed Zack,” Huntley said. “But (Devin) Brumfield came in the game and had some great plays.”
Devontae Henry-Cole rushed for an early touchdown and Cole Fotheringham caught a TD pass for the Utes (3-1, 0-1), who struggled after star running back Zack Moss left in the first half with an apparent shoulder injury. Utah still has never won at the 96-year-old Coliseum.
Tyler Huntley passed for 210 yards and ran for 60 more, but Utah committed 16 penalties for 120 yards and struggled to get key defensive stops against a green Trojans quarterback.
Utah moved the ball effectively between the 20’s, piling up 457 total yards. But the Utes struggled in the red zone, settling for three field goals by Jadon Redding, one blocked field goal and one fumble inside the 5-yard line.
“We got deep in the red zone in the first half and then turned the ball over and came away with nothing.” Whittingham said.. “Left some points on the field there.”
The Utes also suffered numerous costly penalties throughout the game.
“We played pretty clean through the first two games,” Whittingham said. Tonight, both teams had bad penalties and it almost cancelled each other out, but still, we can’t get penalized 16 times for 120 yards.”
Slovis had played two encouraging games as the starter after replacing Daniels, but he couldn’t continue after 335-pound Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu landed on him. Fink jumped into USC’s Air Raid offense and completed eight of his first nine throws during two game-opening touchdown drives.
He hit Vaughns with a slick 29-yard TD pass just 2:03 in. On the next drive, his underthrown pass was snatched out of double coverage at the goal line by St. Brown for his third TD grab of the season.
Moss had 371 yards rushing in his first three career games against USC, but he was hurt early on. After Henry-Cole made a 17-yard TD run on their sharp opening drive, but the Utes then fell into a familiar pattern of steady drives ending in mistakes, including a blocked field goal, a fumble near the USC goal line 16 seconds before halftime, and nine penalties for 75 yards.
Utah trailed 14-10 at halftime despite racking up 284 yards and controlling the ball for more than 20 minutes.
Pittman scored on a brilliant 77-yard catch early in the third quarter, snatching a long pass away from defenders and fending them off on a long run to the end zone. But Fink threw his first career interception a few minutes later, and Huntley hit Fotheringham for a short TD.
The Utes got to the USC 1 moments later before Isaiah Pola-Mao’s third-down sack forced Utah to kick a field goal. USC freshman sensation Drake Jackson then got hold of Huntley in the end zone and forced intentional grounding for a safety with 8:51 to play.
Utah lost its first two conference games last year and still won the Pac-12 South. So, they are not out of the race just yet.
“I firmly believe no one is going undefeated in the (Pac-12) south, and we were in this position last year, so it’s nothing new to us,”Whittingham said.
“It’s nothing we can’t handle.”
“We have a lot of football left,” said safety Julian Blackmon, who was burned on multiple big plays by the USC receivers. “It’s only our fourth game, so we know that we have a lot of football left. We know what happened last year, so we just have to be ready for the next game. It’s time to be over this game already.”
Utah next hosts Washington State Saturday at 8:00 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium.