Preview: USC at Utah
The Trojans will meet the Utes in a game previously promoted as the greatest event in Utah football history. A lot has changed since then, beginning with a Southern California loss to Stanford and fall from the top 10. Instead of facing the No. 1 team in America, the Utes will face a thirteenth ranked program looking to regain its offensive rhythm and play to preseason expectations.
Thursday’s game will mark the eleventh meeting between the two schools, and the first Trojan trip to Salt Lake City since 1917. Six of the previous ten games were played in Los Angeles, and the teams would also meet twice on neutral fields.
Utah rose to national prominence in the Mountain West Conference, but has struggled as a member of the Pac 12. Four of the program’s eight wins in 2011 came out of conference, as it managed just four victories in league play. It begins the new year 0-1 in the Pac 12, and more importantly, one game down in the South division. A victory will place Utah firmly in the hunt for the conference championship game, while another loss would increase the size of the cavern for the climb.
Utah Utes (2-2)
National Rank: none
Last week: Bye
The Utes began the season with Jordan Wynn commanding the offense, and that would change after the second game. Utah was stunned in a loss to Utah State, and also crippled in losing its starting quarterback to a shoulder injury. It is the fourth such injury for Wynn, who decided to hang up his cleats for good.
Wynn was quickly replaced by senior Jon Hays, who now leads one of the worst offenses in the FBS. The Utes rank 112th in total offense (298.25), 110th rushing (107.50), and 102nd passing (190.75).
John White is the primary ball carrier, rushing for only 233 yards and one touchdown on the season. 119 yards of that total came in the opener against Northern Colorado. The senior was held to just 18 rushing yards in the most recent game versus Arizona State. An offensive line that has repeatedly failed to spring runners has also allowed eleven sacks. Tight End Jake Murphy and Receiver DeVonte Christopher lead the Utes with 9 receptions each through the first four games.
Utah ranks 29th in the nation in total defense, but had its worse performance of the season in the first half of the 37-7 loss to Arizona State. The Sun Devils threw for 259 yards in the first thirty minutes, and entered intermission with 31 points on the board. The Utes would limit ASU to just two second half field goals, but the damage was already done. Utah surrendered 512 total yards, which is the highest opponent output of the season, and most since allowing 543 yards to Boise State in the 2010 MAACO Bowl.
USC Trojans (3-1)
National rank: 13 (AP), 12 (Coaches)
Last week: Bye
It would be an understatement to say the Trojan offense isn’t what it was expected to be. With two of the most dynamic receivers in college football, Matt Barkley hasn’t recorded a 300 yard passing day since the season opener. The reduction in yards also came with an increase in interceptions. The former Heisman Trophy front-runner has thrown 5 in the last three games, after an error free performance against Hawaii. Marqise Lee continues to lead the conference in receptions (10.0 pg), but Robert Woods has caught just nine passes in the last two games, with no receiving touchdowns.
USC’s last outing gave a first glimpse of what the backfield can be. After sputtering through the first few weeks, Trojan runners punished Cal for 296 yards. Both Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal eclipsed the 100-yard mark, as the team averaged 7.4 yards per carry. USC will enter Thursday’s game ranked 52nd in total offense (422.0) and averaging 33-points per game.
USC is allowing less than 18 points per game, with much of the power coming up front. The Trojans rank sixth in the nation in sacks, at an average of 4 per game. Morgan Breslin leads the team and conference with 5.5 sacks on the season, as well as 9.5 tackles for loss. The unit showed improvement in the secondary, by limiting Cal to just 173 passing yards, which was the lowest Bear output of the season. It also recorded two more interceptions, elevating the season total to eight.
The Trojans are allowing red zone touchdowns at a 38 percent rate. The opposition has converted 10 of 13 red zone drives into points, with half the total coming as a result of field goals. The Bears went 3 for 5 in the red zone, managing just nine points. It was the difference maker in a 27-9 Southern California victory.
Analysis: The bye week couldn’t have arrived at a better time for USC. Battered by Syracuse and beaten by Stanford, it provided a much needed opportunity for rest and recovery. Salt Lake City will be the third road trip for the Trojans in 5 weeks, with a trip to Seattle as the follow-up to Thursday’s match. The health of Khaled Holmes remains a concern, and Lane Kiffin is still unwilling to share the status of injured players. After playing the previous game against Cal, it’s safe to say Holmes will start against Utah, unless the center re-aggravated the injury to his ankle. The Bye week also gave the Utes a chance to get players back on the field. Defensive end Joe Kruger and safety Eric Rowe should return to the lineup after missing the last game with injuries. The embattled offensive line isn’t as lucky, as it digs deep into its depth to start redshirt freshman Siaosi Aiono at right guard versus USC.
The Utah defense plays strong against the run, and even stronger against the pass. Matt Barkley threw for just 264 yards and one touchdown in last year’s victory in Los Angeles, and may find difficulty airing it out again this week. Trojan success is more likely to come with balance, with the Utes presenting a stout defensive front and active secondary. Redd and McNeal must continue to be involved to avoid an upset, with doubts that the arm of a quarterback can do it alone. For the underdog Utes, establishing a run game of its own is a major key to victory. The Utes are averaging just 2.65 yards per carry, and that won’t get it done against USC.
X-Factor- John White- Utah is 9-0 in games White has rushed for 100 yards.
All-Time Series: USC leads 7-3
Streak: USC has won 1
Last Meeting: USC 23, Utah 14 (Los Angeles)
- Lane Kiffin is 1-3 as a head coach (NFL included) in games following a bye week. Kyle Whittingham is 6-1, losing only to Washington last year.
- Utah has won 8 consecutive Thursday night games
- Whittingham is 8-8 versus AP ranked opponents
- Whittingham is 8-9 all-time versus Pac 12 schools (4-6 as a member of the Pac 12)
- Utah RB Kelvin York decommitted from USC last December
- York was the Utes’ leading rusher in the loss to ASU (13-86 yards-6.6 ypc)