Finally, the Trojans return to the field Thursday night against the Utah Utes. Ten long days since Lane Kiffin’s crew took to the gridiron. And what better than a soft Utes team to get the team back on a winning track?
Hold up. We all know about Thursday night football – the phrase is profane to USC fans. But the Trojans are well rested – and, presumably, well prepared – for its next test. Which could make the situation worse. Who knows. But what is there to know about Utah? Here are five stories and matchups to trace tonight.
1. Will Barkley, Woods and Lee get it together?
Ok. Go time. If not now, when? Cliché! Matt Barkley and the passing attack need to star to air it out. It features arguably the top wideout duo in the country and the top pro-ready quarterback. So what’s taken so long? Last year, Robert Woods had (approximately) 5,000 yards in four games. He’s sitting at 203, a measly 50 yards per game. Sure, it’s a product of Barkley looking towards Marqise Lee because 1) he’s the new toy and 2) Woods still draws attention. Opponents don’t want last year’s Biletnikoff finalist to beat them.
That said, as long as the running game churns out solid yardage, the necessity to pass disappears, which was the case against California. Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd killed it. But where’s the pizzazz in running for 200 yards? I’m inclined to think the offense has some fun Thursday night in Salt Lake City. Though the Trojans had trouble scoring against Utah last season, that contest was game No. 2. It would be a surprise to not see the kinks worked out.
2. In the trenches: USC’s star (Khaled Holmes) vs. Utah’s Star (Lotulelei)
In case it wasn’t obvious, the offense kicks ass with Holmes in there. He’s just too important in an inconsistent corps. When he’s missing, that’s when Stanford happens. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is Utah’s best player on defense, wreaking havoc game-to-game. This will be the biggest point of concern for the offensive line, particularly if Holmes’ re-sprained ankle causes problems. As we’ve all learned: keeping Matt Barkley upright means good things for the Trojan offense. Hopefully, the O-line will be able to.
3. In the trenches, part deux: USC’s star (Morgan Breslin) vs. Utah’s, uh…
As Pedro Moura pointed out on Monday, the Utes will start a freshman right tackle against USC (https://twitter.com/PedroMoura/status/252923718047784961). In unrelated news, silent killer Morgan Breslin will be lined up against said freshman right tackle. More red may be on the field than the Utes’ primary color. In case you missed the unreported assault on Zach Maynard two Saturdays ago, the USC D-line was awesome. Just magnificent. Another strong game against Jordan Wynn will turn the supposed weakest part of the team in fall camp to an undeniable strength.
4. Kevon Seymour time?
Kiffin talked up Seymour during practice this week, citing the issues in finding a consistent cornerback to play opposite from Nickell Robey. Anthony Brown does not inspire confidence, and while Torin Harris has looked good, playing through a year’s worth of rust, he’s had some rough spots. Enter Seymour, the freakily athletic freshman. Dude’s still raw, but seeing on the field will be interesting, especially if the game is out of hand.
5. Which Utah playmakers are a cause of concern for USC?
With quarterback Jordan Wynn retiring last month, senior Jon Hays was tasked with leading the Utes through the rest of the season. Running back John White is still there, but Kelvin Work broke out against Arizona State, going for 86 yards on 13 carries.
On defense, Lotulelei was already mentioned. Defensive end Joe Kruger has racked up 2.5 sacks, a pick and two forced fumbles. USC should have no problem containing Kruger; Lotulelei is the problem.
USC will go out and pick up a needed, decisive victory to the tune of 35-13, which would give the Trojans their first game covering the spread all year. Because that’s what matters. Thursday night trap games are a thing of the past!