This Saturday the Pac-12 South with have a huge game on hand in the USC Trojans vs Utah Utes on primetime TV. USC head coach Clay Helton said that USC and Utah have kind’ve become a rivalry in the Pac-12 South, he may not be wrong on that statement. Since the Utes arrival to the Pac-12, USC has had some close and memorable match ups In recent years their game has also played a big role in the Pac-12 South race as well.
From the first meeting as conference opponents to last season’s game in Salt Lake City, there has been some memorable moments in the games between these two programs. Before the Utes became members of the Pac-12, they’ve only faced USC a total of 9 times with USC defeating the Utes 6 out of those 9. The last meeting as non conference opponents would come in 2001 where Utah defeated USC 10-6 in the Las Vegas Bowl in Pete Carroll’s first season with the Trojans.
Since Utah joined the Pac-12 Conference Utah is only 2 and 4 against the Trojans but the record hides the competitiveness of the conference games. The 2011 game where USC tackle Matt Kahlil blocked a potential game tying field goal and Cornerback Torin Harris returned it for a touchdown in the last seconds of the game. The next year the 2012 Trojans trailed by 14 and 11 before a pick six iced the game in the fourth quarter to defeat the Utes on the road.
The last meeting at the Coliseum was in 2015. An third-ranked Utah at 6-0 with wins over the Michigan Wolverines and two other ranked opponents came into L.A. to face a USC team coming off two straight losses led by Clay Helton in just his second game as interim head coach. In this game the nation was introduced to a freshman linebacker by the name of Cameron Smith. Smith had three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, in the Trojans 42-21 victory. This was also the game that turned the season around for USC as they would play in the Pac-12 championship almost 2 months later.
The Utes two conference victories came at home in games where the offense marched down the field in the final seconds. In 2014 a questionable coaching decision on 4th down led to a turnover followed by Utah quarterback Travis Wilson driving the Utes down the field for a game winning touchdown drive.
A similar finish occurred in 2016. After a dreadful 1-2 start and the Trojans headed into the mountains in a bad weather game, USC turned to redshirt freshman Sam Darnold to make his first career start. Outside of a fumble, Darnold would impress in his starting debut showing off his mobility and ability to extend plays. The first half was sloppy for both teams. USC turned the ball over 3 times but managed to put together two scoring drives for 10 points and Adoree’ Jackson returned a kick for another touchdown. Even with 3 turnovers The Trojans’ 17 first half points against Utah were already more than the combined 16 points USC had scored in two games against Stanford and Alabama.
USC led by a field goal with 5:37 left in the fourth quarter. The Trojans had the ball on the Utah 37 facing fourth down with three yards to go. Clay Helton opted to punt instead of a field goal long field goal attempt in bad weather or trying to get the first down and a chance to put the game out of reach. Trojans’ punter Chris Tilbey pinned the Utes at their own 7. Utah quarterback Troy Williams drove the Utes down the field for the game winning touchdown to give them the win. This would be the game that dropped USC to 1-3 on the season. This also was the one game that would keep USC out of the Pac-12 Championship game. The Trojans, however would not lose again in 2016 going on a 13-game winning streak which included a Rose Bowl victory. That streak was snapped two weeks ago against Washington State, one year and 6 days after the Utah game.
This weekend’s game will write another chapter in the USC/Utah meeting. Winner of this game will control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South. Some tidbits through the series. Utah has never defeated USC at the Coliseum in program history. The Utes only victory over USC in Los Angeles was in 1916, however the game was played at Fiesta Park in Los Angeles in front of 2,000 people. USC is looking to avenge their loss to Utah last season which was a game that kept USC from winning the Pac-12 South and playing in the Pac-12 Title game. The USC win over Utah in 2015 was the tie breaker that lifted the Trojans to the Pac-12 Title game. In 2017 Utah and USC may very well play a game that ultimately decides the division.