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Game Preview: USC vs. Utah

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This Saturday, the USC Trojans head to Salt Lake City to face a rolling Utah Utes team.

USC v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

When the USC Trojans play the Utah Utes, it is always a hard fought, physical game played until the clock hits zero. This Saturday the 4-2 Trojans will face a 4-2 Utes team on a win streak. The top spot in the Pac-12 South is once again on the line this week in Salt Lake City.

Offense

What can be said about USC’s offense that hasn’t already been said? They have so much talent and the potential to be a blowout attack force is there, they just haven’t been able to capitalize on it. Whether it’s play calling by offense coordinator Tee Martin or execution by the players themselves, someone needs to feed the offensive fire some wood. The spark has been lit, it’s just a matter of sustaining it to be able to put away games.

The Utah Utes defense is no joke, they have the No. 4 rush defense in the nation behind Michigan State, Iowa, and Texas A&M. For a run game that struggled heavily compared to last season, the Trojans will have a long night ahead of them on Saturday if Aca’Cedric Ware and the running back corps can’t get something going.

Through six games, USC’s leading rusher in Ware has only had two 100 plus yard games. Establishing a run game obviously takes pressure off the quarterback, but true freshman JT Daniels has done a solid job so far of responding to adverse situations. After throwing two early interceptions against Colorado, Daniels utilized his short term memory and went on to pass for 283 yards and three touchdowns.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

With Daniels, his strong suit is being unafraid and able to throw an accurate deep ball, which is refreshing for USC fans. Wide receiver Michal Pittman Jr. is coming off a monster game against Colorado where he had 155 yards for two touchdowns. Pittman Jr. finally had the game Trojan fans have been waiting to see from him this season. With the explosiveness of Pittman Jr., the reliable hands of Tyler Vaughns, and the mental connection Amon-Ra St. Brown has with Daniels, the young quarterback and the USC offense is on the cusp of having a blowout performance.

Whether or not the USC offensive line can stop Utah linebacker Chase Hansen, is a different story. Hansen leads the Utes in tackles with 52 and tackles for a loss with 11. With the 1-2 combo of him and defensive end Bradlee Anae, who leads Utah in sacks with five (Hansen not far behind with four), USC’s offensive line will have their work cut out for them trying to protect Daniels and his timing.

Defense

The USC Trojan defense had their most impressive showing of the year against the Colorado Buffaloes. They shut down and held quarterback Steven Montez and star wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. to zero touchdowns through the air.

The Trojans will face another dual-threat quarterback in Tyler Huntley, who has 207 rush yards through six games and three touchdowns. With linebacker Cameron Smith coming off a hamstring injury and the loss of fellow linebacker Porter Gustin (out for the season with a fractured ankle), the USC defensive front needs to be able to limit Huntley on the ground if they want to keep this game close.

Colorado v USC Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Not only does USC have to account for Utah’s quarterback on the ground, but also Utes running back Zach Moss. Through six games, Moss has recorded an impressive 617 yards, seven touchdowns, and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. USC true freshman linebacker Palaie Gaoteote who started in place of the injured Smith against Colorado, had a phenomenal performance with nine tackles and will hopefully be good to go against Utah after suffering a concussion last week.

If the Trojans hope to stop a dominant Utah ground game without Gustin, Smith and Gaoteote will have to be the leaders on the defensive front and play lights out. Captain Smith tends to have his best games against the Utes, which is promising for this week. Through their last three meetings, Smith has four interceptions, one touchdown, and 40 total tackles.

Another true freshman who had an impressive showing against Colorado last week, was safety Talanoa Hufanga. He will need to continue to play at a high level to mask the injury list that plagues USC’s backfield, and work with fellow safety Marvell Tell to exploit a Utah offense that is more comfortable on the ground than through the air.

Key Notes

  • USC’s last two trips to Salt Lake City have ended in a loss.
  • In USC’s last two meetings with Utah, the winner has been determined by only five points.
  • USC is 11-5 all-time against Utah.