USC and UCLA began their coronavirus-delayed and shortened football seasons Saturday with the host Trojans rallying to defeat Arizona State and the Bruins losing in Colorado.
All Pac-12 games will be held without fans in attendance, a decision that will be reviewed in January, so the stands at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado were empty.
Mascots, like USC’s Traveler and Colorado’s Ralphie, spirit squads and bands were absent in an attempt to limit the number of bodies on the field and allow for more social distancing.
An individual with the UCLA football program tested positive for COVID-19 the university announced Friday in its weekly report on testing of athletes, coaches and athletic department staff.
Anyone with a positive result immediately enters isolation for 10 days from the date of the test or until the verification of a false positive. Anyone deemed to have been in close contact with someone who tested positive goes into quarantine for 14 days from the last date of contact.
Since UCLA Athletics began testing on June 22, 6,911 tests have been administered with 17 positives, 0.02%.
UCLA has received reports that a member of the athletics support staff and an individual with the rowing program tested positive this week via PCR tests administered outside of the UCLA Athletics testing program. They are not included in the testing figures but have begun a 10-day isolation period.
UCLA does not release the names of individuals who have tested positive or specify their roles in their programs in an attempt to protect their privacy.
Two of the conference’s six scheduled games for Saturday were canceled — Washington at California and Arizona at Utah — because the Golden Bears and Utes did not have the minimum number of scholarship players available because of a player testing positive for COVID-19 and resulting isolation of additional football players under contact tracing protocols.
The Pac-12 has established minimum thresholds to play a game. A team must have at least 53 scholarship players available to participate, including at least seven offensive linemen, one quarterback and four defensive linemen.
The conference called Friday’s cancellation of the Arizona at Utah game one day after the Washington at California cancellation “incredibly disappointing to our student-athletes and our fans.”
“At the same time it is an indication that our health and safety protocols are working in identifying positive cases and contact tracing cases,” the statement said.
“While all of us want to see our football student-athletes on the field competing, our No. 1 priority must continue to be the health and safety of all those connected to Pac-12 football programs.”
USC took several steps to attempt to compensate for the ban on fans and tailgating.
There was artificial crowd noise. The Spirit of Troy marching band provided a slate of 75 songs and cadences to be used. It also presented a live halftime show that was streamed at youtube.com/usctmb.
The band also recorded performances that were shown on the “Trojan Tailgate Show” streamed on the USC Trojans Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages beginning at 7 a.m.
The 280-member band meet via Zoom for rehearsal three times a week as it normally would during the fall semester. Participants include students from across the nation and one from China.
There was a virtual tailgate contest and fans were asked to post selfies on Twitter and Instagram exhibiting Trojan spirit or supporting their favorite USC player. The photos were featured on the “Trojan Tailgate Show” and the Coliseum video board.
Kedon Slovis threw two touchdown passes in the final two minutes, 52 seconds to give USC a 28-27 victory over Arizona State.
Slovis threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Bru McCoy with 2:52 to play. McCoy recovered Parker Lewis’ onside kick at the Trojans’ 45-yard line. Vavae Malepeai ran for 20 and 13 yards on the first two plays of the drive, advancing the ball to the Sun Devils’ 22-yard line.
The Trojans were faced with a fourth-and-1 from Arizona State’s 21-yard line after an incomplete pass, Slovis’ 5- and 1-yard completions to McCoy, and a false start penalty.
Slovis threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Drake London on fourth down and Lewis broke the tie by kicking the extra point.
“A year ago we may not have won this game,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “But a year older, a year more experience, I did not see panic, just poise and kids saying they want to get to the next opportunity.”
Slovis completed a school-record 40 passes, breaking the previous record of 37 he shared with JT Daniels. His 55 passes were two short of his school record set last season.
Slovis threw for 381 yards, the sixth time in his 12 starts with the Trojans he threw for more than 350 yards.
McCoy said “not having fans played a huge factor.”
“We had to lean on each other,” said McCoy, a redshirt freshman from Palos Verdes Estates, who played at Mater Dei High School. “You could feel the energy pick up as people realized we weren’t out of the game (and) could still put something together if we wanted to.”
The 9 a.m. kickoff was the earliest for a USC home game since at least the early 1950s, when complete records are available. The early start was an attempt by the conference to increase its exposure nationally and on the East Coast.
The team had a 6 a.m. wakeup call and buses left the team hotel near campus at 6:55 a.m.
“We were just grateful for the opportunity to be on a national stage, to be able to go out and play a good Arizona State team,” Helton said.
UCLA committed three first-half turnovers that Colorado covered to 21 points in a 48-42 victory.
“We dug too deep a hole in the first half to be able to come back,” said Bruins coach Chip Kelly, whose team trailed 35-14 at halftime.
UCLA players had the option of wearing a special nameplate exclusively for the opener as part of its athletic department’s commitment to anti-racism and social justice. Players proposed to have the option to replace the name on the back of their jersey with a word. The words the team chose are Equality, Justice, Love, Peace and Unity.
The game marked the debut of former Bruins coach Karl Dorrell as the Buffaloes coach, replacing Mel Tucker, who resigned to become Michigan State’s coach.
Dorrell coached UCLA to a 35-27 record from 2003-07. This is his first head coaching job since being fired by UCLA. He has been an assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and New York Jets and Vanderbilt’s offensive coordinator since being fired by UCLA.
The Pac-12 was the last of the Power Five conferences to begin its season. The Pac-12 CEO Group voted unanimously on Aug. 11 to postpone all sports competitions through the end of 2020, after its COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee expressed concern with moving forward with contact practice.
However, the CEO Group announced on Sep. 24 the conference’s football season would begin Nov. 7, with each team playing a seven-game conference-only season, five less than usual.
The change was the result of updated Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee recommendations that took into account increased testing capabilities, the prevalence of COVID-19 and cardiac issues, along with updated state and local health official guidance.
The switch followed an announcement earlier in September that the conference had partnered with the diagnostic firm Quidel to provide up-to-daily coronavirus testing for athletes in contact sports.
The conference’s protocols call for testing each day of full practice, higher-risk of transmission activity, travel and games.
Players are also required to undergo polymerase chain-reaction testing each week there is a game. The PCR test detects the virus’ genetic material while the daily antigen tests detects the presence of the body’s immune response, or antibodies.
The PCR test will take place within 36 hours of the game for the home team and within 36 hours of travel departure for the visiting team. Any positive daily antigen test must be followed by a PCR test within 24 hours.
A third-party testing administrator will administer game-day antigen tests, and PCR tests as applicable, for each team and on-field officials.
Game-day air ambulance service will be available in case any individual tests positive while traveling for competition.