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Turning back the clock: Revisiting the 1997 USC/UNLV game

Before USC open the 2018 season against UNLV, We turn the clocks back 21 years ago when the Trojans last met the Running Rebels.

James Wooford

On September 1st the USC Trojans will kickoff the 2018 season in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the UNLV Running Rebels. USC is coming off a 11-3 season where they won the Pac-12 Championship, however they had a lack luster performance against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Cotton Bowl. They’ll also be replacing some key players on offense which includes quarterback Sam Darnold. UNLV, coming out of the Mountain West Conference, is coming off a 5-7 season and is led by 4th year head coach Tony Sanchez. While the two schools are only separated by a 4 hour drive, this will be only the 2nd meeting between the two schools.

That’s right. The Trojans and Running Rebels have only met once on the gridiron. Let’s turn the clock back to their previous meeting 21 years ago. Back in 1997 USC, led by the legendary John Robinson, was looking to get their season back on track after dropping their first two games to then No. 5 Florida State and Washington State as well as falling out the AP Top 25. The Trojans would beat Cal in Berkley to bring them to a 1-2 record (1-1 in the Pac-10). UNLV, then members of the WAC (Throwback for ya!), was winners of their last two after starting the season 0-2.

Carlos Baker
UNLV gave USC everything they could handle before the Trojans pulled away in the 4th quarter to defeat the Rebels 35-21.

The date was October 4th 1997 when the Trojans hosted the Running Rebels in the Coliseum. The first half of the game was nothing but a story of the two teams season. USC would lose running back LaVale Woods to an ankle sprain on the second play of the game. Freshman running back Malaefou McKenzie would step in to replace Woods. The first quarter went scoreless. The second half USC struggled to reach the end zone and was forced to two field goals while UNLV managed to reach the end zone. The Running Rebels took a 7-6 halftime lead over USC in which the Trojans were met with loud boos when they ran into the tunnel.

Third quarter remained tightly contested at UNLV would score again, however USC would finally reach the end zone and convert a on a 2 point conversion to tie the game at 14. The fourth quarter was where the Trojans flexed its muscles. The Trojans would score 21 fourth quarter points to pull away from UNLV. The Rebels would score a touchdown in the fourth, however it wasn’t enough as USC dominated the quarter and walked out with the 35-21 victory to improve to 2-2 on the season. USC held UNLV to 25 yards rushing which was the Rebels season low. The win over UNLV would give Robinson his 100th college victory as a coach.

John Robinson
The victory over UNLV was John Robinson’s 100th college victory as a head coach. USC would fire the legendary head coach after the team finished 6-5. UNLV would then go on to hire Robinson as the teams head coach in 1999.

USC would go on to finish the season with a 6-5 overall record, going 4-4 in the Pac-10 which tied them for 5th. UNLV on the other hand would finish that season with a dismal 3-8 record. USC athletic director Mike Garrett would fire head coach John Robinson following the 1997 season after the team failed to make a bowl game and finishing with another 6 win season. Ironically in 1999 UNLV would hire Robinson to be their new head coach. Robinson would bring on a familiar face to the staff in former USC quarterback Brad Otton.