Preview: Utah at USC
We welcome Utah to Big League football, but it certainly is no stranger to big league play. The Utes enter the Pac 12 second only to USC in number of BCS Bowl victories (2). Its signature win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl also makes Utah the only conference member to boast a victory over an SEC opponent in a BCS bowl game. The Utes also join Auburn, Boise State, and TCU as the only schools to twice finish undefeated this century.
USC opened the season with a victory that wasn’t large enough to satisfy voters, and quickly tumbled from the Top-25. It now meets Utah in the first ever Pac 12 conference game, where it looks to build and improve on last week’s performance. In Utah, USC will find the familiar face of Norm Chow, who was the program’s offensive coordinator for two Trojan National Champions.
Utah Utes (1-0)
National Rank: None
Last Week: Defeated Montana State 27-10
Defense: To no surprise, defense was a key to Utah’s victory over Montana State in week one. The program finished 27th overall in the category a year ago, and among the strengths was defending the run. The Utes allowed last season’s opponents 111.6 rushing yards per game, good enough for 11th best in the nation. Their week one opponent gained a meager 75.
One notable figure is returning freshman All-American defensive back, Brian Blechen, who has been converted to linebacker. Blechen began the new campaign with two interceptions, showing that a position change doesn’t alter the instincts and nose for the ball. But overall, the unit returns just 5 starters, and will receive a greater test on Saturday.
Offense: A major trouble spot for last year’s team was the offense, especially quarterback play down the stretch. A unit that managed most of the year became stagnant in losses to TCU and Notre Dame. Jordan Wynn threw for just one touchdown in those games, to go along with his two interceptions. He did not play in the season ending loss to Boise State. The offense is now overhauled, moving to a pro-style set under guru Norm Chow. In his introductory game, the load was carried by running back John White IV to the tune of 150 yards (7.9 ypc) against the opening opponent from the lower division. To beat USC, Chow needs to compliment that rushing attack with positives in the air.
USC Trojans (1-0)
National Rank: None
Last Week: Defeated Minnesota 19-17
Defense: Lost in the record-setting numbers from last week is the performance by the Trojan defense. The unit recorded four sacks and eight tackles for loss. It limited Minnesota ball carriers to just 110 yards for the game. It was an interception by the most maligned unit a year ago that sealed the win for Troy, after holding Gopher quarterbacks to less than 200 yards passing on the day.
But there is some cause for concern, as continuity of a potentially disastrous pattern was visible, as another fourth quarter reared its ugly head. The Trojan defense was torched in the final period last year, and that failure to finish allowed at least 3 victories to slip through their fingers. Though it staved off Minnesota’s last gasp comeback attempt, the unit allowed more than half of the Gophers’ passing yards (98) in the fourth quarter alone.
Offense: Lane Kiffin made the claim that his team only has two good players on offense, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. I disagree. The Trojans aren’t as short on talent as it is short on big play performance by the guys up front. The offensive line played as expected, resembling a group lacking in experience and still working to gel as a whole. It fared well in pass protection, surrendering just one sack, but struggled to provide lanes for ball carriers. The team finished with just 67 rushing yards, which included a -4 performance in the third quarter.
Analysis: The biggest question going into Saturday’s game is Utah’s ability to contain or limit the Barkley to Woods connection. As evidenced by Minnesota in the second half last week, it becomes easier if you can control the line of scrimmage with the four guys up front. But the Trojans welcome the return of suspended running back Marc Tyler, adding the most experienced backfield weapon in hopes of improving on last week’s dismal rushing performance. It’s also important that Jordan Wynn plays well for the Utes. Against Minnesota, USC was given the luxury of a lead through the ineffectiveness of opposing quarterbacks, which didn’t improve until there was little time left.
X-Factor, Los Angeles Coliseum: It’s not that Utah hasn’t performed on the big stage, it’s that it hasn’t performed on this one. Teams unfamiliar with the environment are often intimidated by the history of success presented by the ancient dinosaur. The tunnel is lined with past achievements and championship banners fly in the wind. Awaiting the visitor is 93,000 strong, basking in opportunity to sing the victorious songs of Troy. Utah has played in the Coliseum on three prior occasions, with the last being September of 1948. In those three meetings, Utah teams combined to score just two points.
All Time series: USC leads 4-1
Last Meeting: Utah 10, USC 6 (2001 Las Vegas Bowl)
Streak: Utah won 1
- Utah is 7-3 in the last 10 games vs Pac 10 opponents.
- Utah is 18-8 vs BCS automatic qualifiers this century
- In 5 previous meetings, the Trojans have outscored the Utes 124-33
- Utah, along with Kansas State, Notre Dame and Texas, were the only programs out of conference to defeat a Pete Carroll coached USC team.
- The Utah football roster contains 32 players from California