Following an impressive 35-7 beat down over the Boston College Eagles, the Trojans welcome to town another rising program in the national ranks as the 2-1 Utah State Aggies stand poised to pull yet another. This following an AP top-25 season finishing with seven-straight wins, including a dominant outing in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Trojans are 26-1-1 (.946) all-time against current Mountain West Conference teams, and will bring that impressive slate to the test against the best offense USC has faced all year. Besides its 4-0 mark versus Utah State, including its most recent victory 66-10 at the Coliseum back in 1989, USC is also 8-3 against Utah and 2-0 against BYU, showing a great deal of success from the states powerful football programs .
The big challenge for the Trojans will be Mr. Do It All in Chuckie Keeton, the third-year starting quarterback who leads the team in passing, rushing and total touchdowns running plenty of read option. "We haven't really been challenged compared to what's coming," Kiffin said on Sunday during his weekly teleconference.
In only three games this season, Keeton has amassed 12 passing touchdowns and one rushing dart, while only committing one turnover. In terms of collegiate achievement, the junior gun slinger has posted a 91.7 QBR (out of 100) while throwing for an incredible 78-percent completion percentage.
This week, the Trojans defense will have no excuse but to be flat-out stellar defending the dual option threats coming their way. This will place tremendous pressure on the banged up secondary, that has played outstanding while rotating in a slew of fronts early on this season. The Clancy Pendergast coached unit has stepped up their game.
Demetrius Wright had a team-high seven tackles against Boston College, freshman Su'a Cravens added six tackles and a forced fumble, recently-converted CB Josh Shaw had 5 tackles (one for a loss), and Dion Bailey had four tackles (one for a loss), playing smash mouth football from the opening kickoff patrolling the field.
In terms of the Trojans offense, the leader of the pack has emerged in Cody Kessler (33-of-49, 67.3%,373 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT in 2013, plus one rush TD over fellow sophomore Max Wittek heading into the quarter-way benchmark of the season.
Coming off one a very important game in the play-action offense, featuring 43 rushes and a rather precise 17-19 performance passing as a team, the Trojans will rely upon a wide variety of weapon to attack the Aggies defense which has struggled early on to cover tight ends in space.
On that note, Xavier Grimble (23 yards) including the Trojans first reception of 20-plus yards this season and Randall Telfer (17 yards), who left in the third quarter to injury, flashed on the passing scene Saturday by each making tremendous plays over the middle, giving Kessler a much-needed security blanket on offense moving forward.
This most recent scoring outburst propelled USC to scoring at least 30 points in 91 of its last 137 games, including two out of the three games this season, both of which resulted in sound victories. The Aggies meanwhile, have not struggled to score the football, putting up at least 26 in all three games this season, including a 70-point thumping over FCS Weber State just last weekend and in the process, Utah State has only allowed 18.7 PPG (18th Overall).
The Aggies are led by first-year head coach Matt Wells (Utah State Class of 1996) replaces Gary Andersen who accepted the head coaching position at the University of Wisconsin. The 39-year old Wells, who is now the 11th-youngest head coach at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level, led the Aggies to three bowl games including a share of the Big West Conference title in his final season back under center in 1996.
As the quarterbacks coach in 2011, the first season with Keeton under center, Wells helped Utah State's offense establish then-school records for total offense (5,945 yards), rushing yards (3,675), total points (437) and total touchdowns (60), which have been eclipsed by an even-more impressive sophomore campaign.
Just more of a fun note to end the early preview, the Coliseum will be host to sum heart-warming stories and national championship causes for the 12 PM start time this weekend. USC’s 2013 Swimming and Diving NCAA individual champions Vladimir Morozov, Dimitri Colupaev, Cristian Quintero, Jack Wagner, Haley Anderson and Haley Ishimatsu will also be recognized with an on field salute during yet another momentous commercial break.
As part of #WePlay125, volleyball and gymnastics alumni will also be honored on the field during the game. More than 2,000 youngsters from local youth groups and schools will be in attendance as part of the annual Touchdown For Youth program which raises money for underprivileged in Los Angeles. The biggest question for Troy should be which famous ex-Trojan will lead the players out of the tunnel following the likes of Ronnie Lott and Marcus Allen.