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Utes Can’t Survive First-Half Failures : Utah: After a dismal first two quarters, a furious second-half comeback leaves quarterback McCoy pondering what might have been.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The field was deserted, and banks of lights were turned off when Utah quarterback Mike McCoy slowly made his way to the locker room. Only a few well-wishers stuck around to offer McCoy handshakes and hugs.

It seemed he didn’t want to leave, grateful for their support after such a disappointing game.

“We wanted to win,” he said moments after USC defeated Utah, 28-21, Thursday night in Anaheim Stadium. “We played hard, but our No. 1 goal was to win.”

Somebody asked whether Utah’s comeback from a 28-point deficit could erase memories of a dreadful first half for McCoy and a loss for the Utes.

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He looked incredulous.

No way, he said.

McCoy threw for 286 yards and one touchdown, but most of that came after halftime when USC seemed to let down.

McCoy wouldn’t let anyone else take the blame for Utah’s sluggish start. He knew why the Utes managed only 101 yards, why they went scoreless and why they trailed by four touchdowns.

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“We didn’t execute our offense,” he said. “We missed a few things, and I missed a few easy throws.”

How and why Utah made a game of it, turning USC Coach John Robinson into a nervous wreck, was simple.

“We executed,” McCoy said, shrugging.

That simple?

“We executed our offense like we have in the past,” he said.

McCoy’s first-half totals were forgettable. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 81 yards with two interceptions. Worse, Utah couldn’t score despite beginning three of its final four first-half possessions in USC territory.

On one series, the Utes had four cracks at the end zone from inside the 10-yard line but couldn’t score. They started another drive at the Trojan 28, but three plays lost a total of 14 yards, forcing a punt. One series later, they started at the Trojan 41, but USC’s Jason Sehorn intercepted McCoy’s pass intended for Greg Hooks in the end zone.

The second half was vastly different, but McCoy couldn’t bring Utah all the way back.

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Receiver Henry Lusk had a lot to do with Utah’s comeback. He caught six passes for 140 yards and turned a broken play into a 59-yard romp through the Trojan secondary for a touchdown.

Fullback Jamal Anderson was another valuable threat for McCoy in the second half. A 20-yard pass play from McCoy to Anderson set up Anderson’s 34-yard touchdown run.

Suddenly, with 4:28 left in the third quarter and McCoy taking whatever he wanted from USC’s sloppy defense, Utah was down only 28-13.

“We knew we could move the ball on these guys,” McCoy said. “We had the momentum coming into the fourth quarter. I definitely thought we had a chance to win.”

Keith Williams’ one-yard scoring run and McCoy’s subsequent two-point conversion pass to Anderson brought the Utes to within 28-21, but the rally died there.

Later, McCoy could only wonder what might have happened if he had started better and converted those second-quarter scoring chances.

He didn’t seem angry, only disappointed, as he stood with his helmet tilted back on his head and his arms folded.

“We just didn’t get any momentum,” McCoy said. “You can’t spot a team like USC 28 points. We killed ourselves in the first half, plain and simple.”

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