Is Utah putting makeup on a pig?
USC is just seven-point favorites against Utah for the game this weekend in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Utes have been close against the Trojans the past two years.
However, neither the prognostication nor the Pac-12 duels have reflected Utah’s typical mode of defeat in their all-time series against the Trojans.
The Utes have lost by 26-plus points four times. Another was a 13-point decision before 1993, when they fell by a touchdown at a neutral site. Overall, Utah is just 3-8 against USC (1-5 in Los Angeles), losing six straight in a series that began in 1915. That was before either Rice-Eccles Stadium or the Los Angeles Coliseum existed. The first four contests were played by the time A&W was started in 1919, at a parade honoring World War I veterans. The 1925, 1932 and 1948 games were all played at the Coliseum, where Saturday's game will be played.
The Utes won the first two matchups in as many seasons — but the next victory didn’t come for another 85 years, a defensive struggle in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Here's a look at the Utah-USC series:
Rhett Wilkinson is a project manager for UtahPolicy.com and hails the true-blooded Aggies from Utah. The co-founder of magazine Aggie BluePrint.com, he's been an intern for the Deseret News and other publications. firstname.lastname@example.org | @wilklogan
Clarence "Dog" Douglas, Lowell Romney and Darrell Gardner led the Crimson, as they were called back then, to a one-touchdown victory.
The Salt Lake Tribune headline read "Utah Whales California in Fierce Battle" and the lead said, "the greatest crowd of the year rose to its feet and cheered lustily" after the victory.
According to the account of the game "they played with desperation and fury of few Utah teams" and "again and again the visitors were brought down in their tracks by the Crimson tackles."
Douglas, who played right tackle on offense and defense was the "hero of the day" as he "broke through the opponent's line and intercepted a lateral pass, sprinting a full 82 yards for the touchdown" in the second quarter.
Later in the third quarter, he recovered a fumble at the 5-yard line to set up a score by Gardner, who "tore through right tackle" for the touchdown.
USC got within one point early in the fourth quarter on a touchdown, but failed on the extra point try, leaving the score 14-13. Utah put the game away when Romney scored, set up by a 20-yard run by Gardner.
Lowell Romney scored two touchdowns, and Harold Kay scored one TD and added three extra points as Utah won before 6,000 spectators in Los Angeles.
Utah would have won by twice as much, according to the Deseret News account, except for "the eagle eye of the referee, who penalized the Crimson more for holding than the USC gains combined."
After seeing his team lose the previous two years, USC's 140-pound quarterback Frank "Rabbit" Malette beat Utah almost all by himself, according to the newspaper account.
He "shot forward passes, wriggled through his opponent's line and around the ends" to disappoint the Utah supporters who filled the stands at Cummings Field.
Utah had come into the game as the favorite but left with the worst loss in its 24-year history.
After taking a 7-0 halftime lead, Southern California scored twice in the third quarter before Utah scored on a run by Milton Romney. But the Crimson couldn't score again and the home team added a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The newspaper account partly blamed the weather for the Ute loss, saying "the visitors were playing under very adverse weather conditions for it was about as hot here as a July afternoon in Salt Lake." Also, "the heat was telling on the Utahns whose duds were wringing wet."
But at least they couldn't blame the loss on any home cooking. Unlike the 1916 game, "the work of the officials was highly commendable" read the newspaper account.
Or maybe Utah lost because of its pre-game activities. According to the Tribune, coach Thomas Fitzpatrick took his players out to Venice for a workout and "every member of the team was feeling fine after a little dip in the ocean surf."
This was the first game of legendary coach Ike Armstrong's 25-year tenure, but he wasn't there as he needed to attend to his ailing mother back east. According to a newspaper account out of Los Angeles, "The coaching was not done by the Utah coach or any of the Utah players, but by one of the hangers-on near the Ute bench."
Utah's only score came in the fourth quarter thanks to a bad pass from center when "the Trojan quarterback was smothered by a mass of Ute linesmen" for a safety.
USC's third touchdown was set up by a 25-yard penalty on a Utah player who "kneed" a Trojan player and was sent out of the game.
After the loss, Utah went on to win six straight games before losing to Utah State in the season finale.
This was the worst loss for an Ike Armstrong-coached team since his team lost to Southern Cal seven years earlier.
The Trojans were the defending national champions and the "Indians" as they were now called, were the four-time Rocky Mountain Conference champions.
Utah played the Trojans even until three minutes left in the first half when they scored to go up 7-0. Before that Utah had "baffled" the Trojans with a passing attack that made five first downs until quarterback Fred Tedesco went out with an twisted knee.
USC went 10-0 for the season, outscoring its opponents 201-13 and won its second national championship.
Like the game 16 years earlier, the Redskins stayed close in the first half, trailing just 7-0 before letting the game get away in the second half.
The newspaper report said except for "three bad breaks," a midfield fumble, a blocked punt and an interception, it could have been a one-touchdown game.
But at least the band came to play.
"Utah's 110-piece marching band brought the huge crowd (55,211) to its feet with as nifty a piece of maneuver as these West Coast fans have ever seen," reported the sports writer covering the game.
USC came into the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim as the Pac-10 tri-champion, while Utah was the fourth-place team from the WAC. It looked like a mismatch and after one quarter it was, as the Trojans jumped out to a 20-0 lead.
By halftime it was 28-0, but the Utes came back and dominated the second half behind Mike McCoy and Henry Lusk on offense and Luther Elliss on defense. The Utes had a chance to win or tie, but McCoy's desperation pass was picked off as time expired.
While most folks were busy opening their presents and eating figgy pudding, the Utes and Trojans met on the field Christmas afternoon at the Las Vegas Bowl.
Neither team had enjoyed a great season, but USC seemed to have the momentum prior to the game, having won its last four games, including a 27-0 thumping of rival UCLA, while the Utes had lost their final two games, a couple of heartbreakers against BYU and Air Force.
The Utes jumped out to a 10-0 halftime lead on a 3-yard run by Adam Tate in the first quarter and a 26-yard field goal by Ryan Kaneshiro in the second. The Trojans finally got on the board early in the third quarter on a 4-yard run by Sunny Byrd. Then it was up to the Utah defense, led by Shelden Deckart and Antoine Sanders to shut the door on Carson Palmer and the Trojans, who managed just 151 yards of total offense on the day.
In their first Pac-12 game, Utah lost uniquely in Los Angeles.
A 41-yard field goal attempt by Utah's Coleman Petersen was blocked by USC's Matt Kalil and returned for a touchdown by Torin Harris as time expired, capping a “wild” closing sequence, the Deseret News’ Dirk Facer wrote.
Officials initially waved off the game-ending score because of an unsportsmanlike penalty. But Pac-12 officials opted to reverse the decision after reviewing it, “no doubt sending Las Vegas bookmakers who had paid out winners into a fit,” the Los Angeles Times’ Gary Klein wrote. USC was an 8½-point favorite.
"I'm lucky I'm a tall guy," the 6-foot-7 Kalil told Klein. Kalil had also blocked a field goal attempt the previous week.
The Utes came up empty on their last five drives.
"We never had a situation where we felt overmatched or overwhelmed in any way shape or form," coach Kyle Whittingham said.
"It took 95 years for USC to play another game up on the hill and only a few minutes to ensure a successful return,” Facer wrote.
The 13th-ranked Trojans beat the Utes 38-28 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, shattering a close game with two touchdowns in a span of 2:40 in the fourth quarter.
An 83-yard scoring strike from Matt Barkley to Marqise Lee preceded a 38-yard interception return by Nickell Robey.
The end-of-game big plays nullified Utah’s to start the contest. Athlete Nate Fakahafua did nothing less but steal the pigskin from Barkley for a touchdown seconds into the contest. Then tackle Star Lotulelei recovered a fumble at the Trojan 13-yard line moments later, setting up quarterback Jon Hays for a six-point toss.
But the Utes gained just yards 116 after intermission — and “more than half came when the game had essentially been decided,” Rhett Wilkinson wrote.