USC vs. Utah State: What to Expect From The Best of the Mountain West

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Time to stack up the Aggies and Trojans greatest strengths and weaknesses by scanning across the record books for key stats, story lines and match ups for the Saturday afternoon Coliseum tilt.

As we continue to pump out coverage for the growing match up between Utah State and the USC Trojans, here is a brief look on the greatest stats, sights and sounds from the Aggies slate of games in 2013.

Utah State once again received votes in this week's USAToday coaches' poll as it garnered five votes to rank tied for 39th in the nation. That being said, the tilt with USC on Saturday is rather momentous for the entire Utah State program because they will play their first nationally televised game on ABC since Oct. 7, 1978 when it faced BYU.

Dating back to the 2011 season, Utah State has won eight of its last 11 road games. In that process, Utah State has also won 18 of its last 22 games, which is USU's best stretch since going 18-2-1 during the 1960-61 seasons. Their record has almost remained perfect however; dropping close contests to FBS powerhouses No. 22 Wisconsin (16-14) on a last-second missed FG, BYU (6-3) from last year, and Pac-12 foe Utah (30-26) this season.

"It would be a benchmark and it would be huge," Utah State head coach Matt Wells said, in the midst of his first season, adding, "Hopefully we can play well early and get it to the fourth quarter, then we'll see what happens."

The Aggies run-and-shoot offense enters the contest producing at least 500 yards of total offense in seven of its last nine games, largely in part thanks to junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who ranks tied for first in the nation along with Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion with 12 touchdown passes this season.

Utah State entered the 2013 season returning all five of its starters on the offensive line from a year ago and has the fourth-most experienced offensive line in the nation according to Phil Steele's College Football Preview with 125 career starts. This for a program with 59 players from its own stomping grounds, desperately searching for a marquee upset to boost their resume as a legitimate bowl-game contender.

QUICK HITS FOR SATURDAY:

  • USC's Running Backs Coach Tommie Robinson coached the running backs at Utah State in 1992 and 1993, helping the Aggies to the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl.
  • Current OG John Martinez is the only current player to reside from the state of Utah (Murray, Utah) as one of only three Trojan lettermen in history (Joe Davis, Stanley Havili) to follow.
  • No.13 USC thoroughly dominated Utah State in the Coliseum 66-10, back in 1989 during the team's last official meeting. It was 24-0 at the end of the first quarter and the Trojans did not punt in the game, going 10-of-11 on 3rd down while hauling in over 600 yards of total offense in the victory.
  • "[Keeton is] a running quarterback who can throw the ball, who can scramble, who can do everything," Kiffin said earlier this week. "These guys have lit up the scoreboard for years."

One note to keep in mind moving forward, Utah State hasn't allowed a first quarter touchdown in 18 of its last 19 games, something the USC offense only just accomplished against Boston College this season.

This won't be the last time the Trojans and Aggies square, since the men's basketball team opens it season at Utah State, who plays in one of the most volatile and intense atmospheres in all of collegiate basketball.

In what should be the most crucial determinant for success, Utah State has converted 30-of-46 third downs during its first two games, and that conversion percentage of 65.2 percent ranks fourth in the nation. They are facing however, the 18th-ranked defense on third down that will look to build upon their second-ranked sack totals in three games.

Some other notable players to watch for the Aggies will be C Tyler Larsen and OG Eric Schultz, both 2012 All-WAC first team linemen, provide protection. Key pass catchers are WRs Bruce Natson and Travis Van Leeuwen along with scat back Joe Hill. The defense meanwhile, ranked 13th nationally in total defense, is headed by 2012 All-WAC first team LBs Jake Doughty and sophomore Kyler Fackrell.

In terms of overall history, USC has never lost to Utah State, winning by an average of 46 points. This is USC's second game of 2013 against a MWC team (Hawaii) and the Trojans have a near spotless record against current MWC foes. All of which comes after a nearly perfect performance on offense, racking up over 250 yards passing and rushing against BC.

The Trojans defense meanwhile may be the biggest determinant of success moving forward, and are ranked second nationally in rushing defense, third in sacks and fourth in total defense.

Add to the fact that they also rank sixth in interceptions, tackles for losses and pass-efficiency defense, as well as slotting in eighth overall in scoring defense, the Aggies fast-paced scoring attack certainly understands the daunting task opposing them just across the line of scrimmage.

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