1. The quarterback position has been back and forth to say the least, but coach Wittingham is going with Travis Wilson from the start. Should USC expect both QB's to play and what can Wilson do well against this defense?
I'd expect to see both quarterbacks in some capacity, but unless Utah's offense is inept, Kendal Thompson will be put in for situational plays. Wilson is a sneaky good dual threat QB, but his main skill is slinging it around the yard. If Wilson gets the support from his receiving corps, then he will be able to keep USC's defense honest and away from Devontae Booker.
2. Utah's exemplary pass rush, which has recorded a CFB-high 33 sacks, gets after the quarterback like no other. In what ways do the Utes create such effective pressure and what will they try to do, outside of crowd noise, to confuse a relatively young offensive line?
Utah's defensive line is very quick, and very deep. Obviously, Nate Orchard headlines the whole crew with his 10.5 sacks on the season, but opposite of him Hunter Dimick is a nightmare on tackles, and then they clog up the middle with Star Lotulelei's younger brother, Lowell Lotulelei, Filipo Mokofisi, Clint Shepard and crew. Not to mention, Utah has some major additions to the defense this year with JC transfer Tevin Carter at safety, Miami transfer Gionni Paul at linebacker, and the return of Brian Blechen at the other safety has helped solidify back seven.
3. While Devontae Booker has been fantastic, the Utes are facing one of the best rushing defenses in the entire Pac-12 this week. How persistent will Utah be with the running game and what ways can they maximize Booker's value on offense?
Utah will be persistent at the run game, no doubt about it. Booker is one of the best backs in the conference, and has a knack for picking up yards. He's also very good in the receiving game, so don't be surprised to see him on screen passes. Not to forget Utah has Bubba Poole in the backfield as well, who is also a very good running back that can pick up some yards for the Utes while Booker is getting a blow.
4. Speedster Dres Anderson attracts all the national headlines when talking about the Utah wide receiver corp, but where else can USC fans look to find solid pass-catching options?
Utah's receiving corps has been struggling the last couple of weeks with drops, but their talent is very deep. Dres is the headliner, but behind him there is Kenneth Scott, who caught a couple touchdowns against USC last time the Trojans came to Salt Lake City, although one was waved off because of a killer ineligible receiver penalty.
There is also Tim Patrick, a tall, sure handed JC transfer, and punt return specialist Kaelin Clay. Clay is very dangerous when in the open field, and will have opportunities in the screen game as well.
5. Crazy to think that Utah's defense may actually be better this season, even without Star Lotulelei, Joe and Dave Kruger on the defensive line. How has this defense coped without them and who do you think has been one of the most improved players up front?
Utah's defensive line has produced a ton of NFL talent under head coach Kyle Whittingham, Star Lotulelei is the headliner, but reloading the d-line is a normal thing at the U. Honestly, the most improved player is Nate Orchard. His talent has been evident since he came on campus as a freshman, and had flashes, such as the strip of Matt Barkley when USC was last up here, but he would vanish for stretches too. It appears that the light has fully come on for him, and he's an absolute monster.
6. We haven't seen the Utah Utes this high in the national rankings since they were apart of the Mountain West Conference. How important is this game for a 5-1 ranked squad that has one of the toughest Pac-12 slates left to play?
Very important, because Utah's been so close as a member as the Pac-12, but has just missed so many games the last couple of seasons. The early record, and the wins on the road, show that the program is in the right direction and that it is dangerously close to being an upper level team in this conference.
The key for Utah, first and foremost this season, is get to six wins, and the fact that they've got five in six tries has the Utes ahead of many fans expectations. Frankly, if Utah hadn't blown a 21-point lead against Washington State, the Utes would be 6-0.
7. How impactful will the Utah Utes' home environment be for a USC squad that just went into Arizona and beat a ranked Wildcats squad?
Utah's home environment is probably only really rivaled by Oregon's in the conference. Like Autzen, it's around 50,000 people, and the crowd is on top of you. It is also a night game, which has prompted the football program to make this the annual blackout game, which always looks so great and adds to the atmosphere. Being at altitude is also an advantage, especially for teams right from sea level, and with USC not having the best of depth, that is an advantage, especially as the game wears on.
Lastly, Utah fans have been craving a top 20 matchup in the Pac-12, and most fans would have begged for that matchup to be against USC. Ute fans now have that wish, and the fact that Steve Sarkisian, former QB of a certain independent team from Provo, Utah, is the Trojans' coach, makes it that much more fun. The fans are rabid, and if they smell blood, i.e. shaky offensive linemen, they will eat them up.
8. Can Utah continue to play these tight, grind-it-out Pac-12 games (the new norm) and beat the USC Trojans?
Utah's been playing tight games for the last couple of seasons, so they're basically expected at this point. Just the past few seasons, Utah's been on the wrong end of those touchdown or less games. This season, Utah's fortunes have been much better.
Frankly, there is no team on Utah's schedule that they can't beat - especially at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Now, that's not saying Utah will beat them all, but with Utah's defense, which is one of the best in the conference, and special teams, which is the best in the conference, they will always be in the game. If Utah's passing game gets clicking again, then watch out.