LOS ANGELES (ABC4 Sports) – Dealing with overwhelming tragedy the last two weeks, the Utes were finally able to experience some joy again Saturday night.
Cam Rising threw three touchdown passes and ran for another as Utah defeated USC at the Coliseum, 42-26 on Saturday night.
It was the first game for the Utes since safety Aaron Lowe was killed in a shooting at a post-game party on Sept. 26, nine months after running back Ty Jordan died of an accidental gunshot wound to the abdomen on Christmas night 2020.
“To see just their sheer enjoyment, and that’s the best way to describe it,” Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “They obviously had Ty and Aaron on their mind, and it’s gonna be a constant the rest of the season. But to see them have the success they had tonight was great and I think this team needed that. I know they did.”
“Inspired, ” wide receiver Britain Covey said about the Utes performance. “We didn’t know if that inspiration would translate to a win. That wasn’t what was important at the time. But we feel inspired, just to go out there with a bigger purpose.”
This was Utah’s first victory against USC on the road in 105 years, spanning eight straight losses.
Rising was 22-of-28 passing for 306 yards, Brant Kuithe and Tavion Thomas each ran for a touchdown, and Utah (3-2, 2-0 Pac-12) won a road game against the Trojans for the first time since 1916, which predates the opening of the Coliseum in 1923.
Utah amassed 486 yards of total offense that included 180 rushing yards and 306 passing yards, as the Utes scored the most points in program history against USC when playing in the Coliseum. The Utes had six different players score touchdowns.
Whittingham credited a team meeting last week with Lowe’s mother, Donna Lowe-Stern, for giving players permission to turn their attention back to football. And they delivered an inspired performance, with the offense taking charge by scoring touchdowns on four straight possessions in the second and third quarters.
“I’m extremely proud of our football team,” Whittingham said. “Players played with a great competitive spirit tonight, passion, energy, you name it, we had it. Great job by our assistant coaches with game planning and getting things set, but again the players are the ones who executed and deserve all the credit. It’s been a long time since we won here.”
Utah took control when Thomas went 43 yards up the middle to take a 28-10 lead 2:19 into the second half. After Vonte Davis intercepted a pass by Kedon Slovis on fourth down to give Utah a short field, Rising scored on a 17-yard keeper to send fans to the exits with 9:13 left in the third.
“I feel like there’s a lot of, like, ups and downs with the emotions, but I feel like we were really able to come together as a team,” defensive end Mika Tafua said. “Really lean on each other, so that really helped, and we saw the results tonight.”
As a passer, Rising was able to take advantage of the aggressive tendencies of USC’s defensive backs. He found Money Parks off play-action for a 12-yard touchdown and Devaughn Vele for a 37-yard touchdown off a flea flicker on fourth-and-1 late in the second quarter, before connecting with Dalton Kincaid on a 1-yard pass in the fourth.
“It’s always a good feeling, especially just being from this area, and they didn’t really recruit me,” Rising said. “So it was a special one to get, especially after 1916 was the last win here. So that’s pretty amazing.”
“He is an alpha dog,” Whittingham said about Rising. “He’s a leader in every sense of the word. He does command the room and he’s the the leader of the offense. Between him and Brit Covey, those were two captains elected on offense by their peers. He is exactly what you want in the quarterback when you talk about the “it” factor and the field general that you want leading the troops.”
Tavion Thomas, benched earlier in the season for having fumble problems, rushed for 113 yards on 16 carries.
“Well Tavion is a talent, Whittingham said. “We all know that. He’s had a little bit of a struggle with ball security earlier in the season. He’s worked hard on it throughout the bye week and in this past practice week extensively. We put him in there and his ball security was great. Hopefully he’s got some traction now and he can pick up where he left off next week.”
“It’s super special,” Thomas said about the victory. “I feel like the guys played with a lot of passion. With the recent events that took place, it was just good to get a victory. It was special to us and I’m just glad that we came out of here victorious.”
Vele led Utah in receiving with four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, while Britain Covey added five receptions for 67 yards.
On defense, Kamo’i Latu led Utah with 10 tackles, Mika Tafua had two sacks, while Clark Phillips III had three passes defended.
USC was able to move the ball early on, with each of its first four drives ending in Utah’s territory, but had just 10 points to show for it because of continued poor play in the red zone. Parker Lewis missed a 34-yard field goal to compound those issues, and the offense couldn’t keep pace once the Utes began exploiting weaknesses in the Trojan defense.
Drake London had 16 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown for USC (3-3, 2-3), which has lost three straight at home by at least 14 points for the first time in school history. The Trojans also lost three consecutive conference home games in 1991 and 2000.
Slovis was 33 of 53 passing for 401 yards, two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions, and Vavae Malepeai had a short rushing touchdown.
Utah players, coaches and staff will now travel to Texas on Monday to attend Lowe’s funeral. Then they will return home to face Arizona State with first place in the Pac-12 South at stake, and a win would put them in favorable position to play in the conference title game in Las Vegas on Dec. 3.