USC-Utah State: What To Watch For

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Can USC's defense contain Chuckie Keeton? Will Tre Madden top the century mark on the ground for the fourth straight game? We examine that and much more in our game preview before USC-Utah State kicks off at The Coliseum.

1. Chuckie Keeton

This will be USC's first real test in facing a quarterback like Keeton, who comes into today's matchup with 923 passing yards, 12 touchdowns (tied for first in the nation) and just one interception. More impressively, he's completed 78.1 percent of his passes. Keeton has also rushed for 187 yards and one score via the ground.

"You can't tackle him, he runs around and makes every throw, he doesn't seem to get rattled and he plays great in big games," Kiffin said. "This is a really special player."

The Trojans have typically struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks, but Clancy Pendergast's unit has looked every bit of the word dominant through three weeks. The Trojans defense ranks second in rushing defense, second in sacks and fourth in total defense. Utah State, however, ranks eighth in scoring offense (49.3 points per game) and 12th in total offense (550.3 yards per game), in large part because of Keeton.

2. USC defensive front vs. Utah State offensive line

The Aggies return five starters on the line, while the Trojans have Morgan Breslin, Devon Kennard, Leonard Williams and George Uko as a big reason why opposing quarterbacks have had trouble against USC this year. The four have combined for nine sacks this season, but the Aggies have allowed just three through three games. Putting pressure on Keeton and forcing him into quicker decisions is one way to slow him down. But will the defense be disciplined enough and force him to be a one-dimensional threat?

3. Penalties

This one has been harped on consistently, but the Trojans rank 110th out of 124 FBS teams in penalties. They had 10 penalties for 100 yards in their 35-7 win over Boston College, four coming on defense due to offsides or roughing the passer calls. The Eagles weren't able to take advantage, but against a potent offense like Utah State, it could.

4. Third-down conversions

USC ranks 105th in third-down conversions (11 for 37, 29.7 percent), while Utah State comes in at fourth in the nation (30 for 46, 65.2 percent). The Trojans completed 5-of-10 third-down conversion attempts last weekend against Boston College, and their offense was able to generate some type of rhythm. Moving the ball and the chains also keeps Keeton and the Utah State offense off the field, and with the Aggies' up-tempo attack, the Trojans' defense doesn't need to be on the field for a large portion of the game. Part of this starts with USC's ability to consistently convert on third down and move the ball down the field.

5. Tre Madden

After missing all last year because of surgery to repair a torn ACL, Madden seems like he hasn't missed a beat. He's the first USC tailback to record three straight games of 100+ rushing yards since Marcus Allen did it in 1981. That's some pretty good company. Can Madden give USC another 100 yards on the ground for the fourth straight game to open the season? If the Trojans can establish the ground game again and control the clock, it'll open up the passing game for Kessler, and more importantly, keep Keeton and the Utah State offense on the sidelines.

USC-Utah State kicks off at 12:30 p.m. PT and will be televised live on ABC or ESPN2. You can also listen live on 710 ESPN Radio.

Follow Trevor on Twitter: @Trevor_Wong.

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