Whoever wins the battle in the trenches will dominate the game. USC did just that offensively and defensively against Utah this past Saturday and it paid off. The Trojans' defense produced three sacks, four turnovers, and a huge headache for quarterback Travis Wilson as USC beat the Utes 42-24. The offensive line created gaps for the running backs and gave Kessler enough time to hit his targets, as the offense had 380 yards and five scores. USC looked alive and well prepared as they sacked, ran, intercepted, and created big plays to put this game out of reach. While Adoree Jackson was sidelined on defense and used primarily as a receiver, there were plenty more notable changes coach Helton and the Trojans made this weekend.
Spread The Wealth On Offense
USC had nine players touch the ball Saturday night and gave them opportunities to make plays. The running game established itself early with Ronald Jones II plowing his way through and around defenders. When he was getting rest Justin Davis was given many chances and he put defenders on skates. Davis was consistent with his reads and accelerating through the holes, leaving defenders on the ground from missed arm tackles. Jones and Davis each had a score and even let Kessler join the fun with a rushing touchdown. The Trojans' line persevered despite being down to their third-string center and made holes for the two-headed monster in the backfield. The Trojans stretched the Utes defense with Davis finding small creases against outside linebackers and gained many yards in-between the tackles with Jones leading the way. This made Utah play out of character and truly respect the run, which led Smith-Schuster and friends alone with the corners.
Kessler was 75% in completions and threw for 280 yards and one score. His numbers were neither Heisman like nor the usual night for Kessler, but what separated him from many was his poise and consistency in the pocket. Kessler was a smooth operator controlling the clock and the ball, giving USC 34:50 in time of possession. Kessler threw to six different receivers, including his favorite target Ju Ju Smith-Schuster. Kessler and Schuster beat the Utes secondary on the perimeter and deep, usually lining Schuster up everywhere on the field to get him open. Schuster used his speed and strength to outrun defenders and put them on their back as he fought for extra yards. Kessler used Dominic Davis effectively on critical downs to gain positive yards that led to big plays. Despite Kessler being sacked four times he didn't throw the ball into heavy coverage and protected the football. A huge positive that led to the Trojans' victory were committing no turnovers and having great ball protection. With the Utes defense not capable of forcing turnovers, stopping the run, nor getting off the field, the Trojans were able to make big plays with their playmakers. USC was also given good field position due to their lights out performance on defense.
The Defense Everyone Has Looked For
For weeks the Trojans' defense has been ran through, ran around, and passed on for big yards continuously looking at each other for an answer. This week Cameron Smith, Delvon Simmons, and Su'a Cravens led and answered, giving the Trojans life that resulted in four turnovers and three sacks. The Trojans' defense held one of the best running backs in the country 62 yards on 12 carries while Wilson added 35 yards on the ground in 13 carries. USC held the Utes rushing attack to 3.5 yards a carry by simply executing within their gaps and getting off blocks.
Scott Felix and Su'a Cravens worked together, becoming force players off the edge and not giving up the perimeter for big gains. Booker's longest run was 12 yards and that was due to the Trojans swarming to the ball and also getting in the backfield. Cameron Smith stepped up in the biggest way possible, leading the Trojans with nine tackles, three interceptions, and a defensive score that pushed the Trojans momentum through the roof. Smith was electric from the first quarter to the closer, picking off Wilson and reading him like a 1st grade picture book. Wilson's composure was rattled by his early turnovers and couldn't recover for the rest of the game, knocking off Utah's rhythm. The Trojans' front seven helped a young and shaky secondary find its confidence Saturday night, taking a lot of pressure off them. Despite Wilson throwing for 254 yards (129 to Covey) he could not make much happen against USC. Marshall, McQuay III, Hawkins, and Lockett held their own for the most, part while contributing to the Utes poor third down conversions (3-11). The Trojans defense won in a classic fashion, looking dominant and confident like they've been needing to.
USC only had four penalties this weekend, compared to 18 in the past two weeks. If the Trojans can continue to produce from this win throughout the season we can be witnessing the re-emergence of a talented team. Most importantly, play calling and coaching looked a lot better with Helton leading USC in his second consecutive game. As Madden becomes healthy and Jackson is used more within the offense the sky can be the limit for USC as they face Cal in Berkeley this Saturday night. The Trojans defense will have to cause havoc against a pass-heavy offense led by Jarred Goff and a unit of talented receivers.