LOS ANGELES (AP) — Cameron Rising threw three touchdown passes and ran for another as Utah defeated Southern California 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, and they obviously had Ty and Aaron on their mind, and it’s gonna be a constant the rest of the season,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “But to see them have the success they had tonight was great and I think this team needed that. I know they did.”
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.
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.
“The guys fought to the end, but that’s not good enough at all, especially for USC,” interim coach Donte Williams said.
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.
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.
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.
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: Playing to honor Lowe, the Utes came through with their most complete performance of the season. 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.
USC: The Trojans’ path to bowl eligibility is now in serious jeopardy. It’s also no longer out of the question that this could be the first senior class at USC to have two losing seasons in their career since John McKay had two sub-.500 years in 1970-1971.
Williams said USC would comprehensively review personnel and schemes during its upcoming open week before playing at Notre Dame.
“Making sure that we play the right guys, making sure we calling the right plays, making sure we doing things the right way,” Williams said. “This is the first half of the regular season, so we have a whole second half to go so we got to make sure we the right combination of guys and plays going on on that field.”
Utah left tackle Jaren Kump did not return after sustaining a left leg injury when he was rolled up from behind in the second quarter.
USC tight end Michael Trigg sustained a knee injury in the third quarter and left the Coliseum using crutches with his right leg in a brace.
Utah: The Utes host the Sun Devils on Saturday in a battle of the last two Pac-12 teams without a conference loss.
USC: The Trojans face the Fighting Irish on Oct. 23. The intersectional rivals did not play last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only the second interruption in the series after World War II halted it from 1943-1945.