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Staff Predictions: USC at Utah

Once again, the USC Trojans’ Pac-12 South battle seems to come down to a match-up with the Utah Utes.

Utah v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images


Can USC capture a critical division win on the road?

Last week the USC Trojans showed up to play against Colorado at home to put them in the drivers seat of the Pac-12 South. They face another critical game against the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City. The Utes are coming off of two huge wins on the road against Stanford and Arizona.

All eyes will be on the USC offense. Will they show up against the Utah defense? Last week USC had an impressive aerial performance against Colorado. Despite the two early interceptions, USC freshman quarterback JT Daniels threw for 272 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans 31-20 victory over Colorado. Daniels was given time by the offensive line to get his passes off to Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns. Utah has two pass rushers in defensive end Bradlee Anae and linebacker Chase Hansen. The duo are the Utes leaders in tackles for loss and sacks. The Trojans’ offensive line will have to keep these two away from Daniels to give the passing game some time. Another huge concern was the lack of a running game by USC last week. The Trojans rushed for 62 yards and averaged 2.3 yards per carry in the win over Colorado. It won’t get any easier as Utah has the No. 2 run defense in the nation.

History has shown that the USC and Utah games always are close ones. It has also shown that the Trojans have had a hard time defeating the Utes at Rice Eccles Stadium as they lost their last two games in Salt Lake City. Their last victory came back in 2012 when Matt Barkley and USC overcame a two score deficit to defeat the Utes. This game will indeed be -close, however the Utah defense will give the USC offense fits and play a huge part in a Utes victory to make it three straight over the Trojans at home.

USC- 17 Utah- 31


If USC was going to lose a Pac-12 South match-up to a divisional opponent, it would have been to Colorado’s talented offense and capable defense. Instead, the Trojan defense made the high-flying Colorado offense seem pedestrian, covering up for many of the mistakes made by the Trojan offense, namely two JT Daniels interceptions in horrible field position. The defense caused 16 tackles for loss, four of those in the form of a sack.

No, the USC defense will not have Porter Gustin against Utah, or the rest of the season for that matter. How the defense replaces Gustin’s production will be key in the team’s performance against Utah, and for the rest of the season. If the interior rotation of Malik Dorton, Jay Tufele, Brandon Pili, and Christian Rector continue at their current upward trajectory, the loss of Gustin will be somewhat ameliorated. Against Colorado, backup middle linebackers Reuben Peters and Palaie Gaoteote lived in the backfield. If one or the other can make a Dont’a Hightower-esque transition, USC’s defense should maintain its current dominant form.

USC wins on a last second field goal. 28-26


The USC Trojans defense finally clicked against Colorado and they performed the way they should’ve been the whole year. If they can keep that defensive play up then they should be able to take care of the Utes on the road. But, the Trojans have lost to the Utes in Salt Lake City each of their last two games they’ve played there, with each of those losses coming at the final seconds of the game.

The Utes have been on a tear the last couple of weeks with big wins over Stanford and Arizona. Their defense has been great all season and their offense seams to be coming along. With that said, JT Daniels and the Trojan offense have improved little by little each week and if their defense can play like they did last week against Colorado, they should get the win.

USC - 30 UTAH - 24


Yup, the Trojans are finally getting back on track.

I predicted a USC win over Colorado last week because the team was just coming off of a bye week after two straight wins, allowing them to taste victory and utilize the bye to work as hard as ever to help them maintain that victorious feeling.

Now the team is coming off of a dominant win over a very good Colorado team, and you can tell that these Trojans are hungry to get even more wins. Unfortunately, this week they face another hot team in the Utah Utes, coming off of two straight dominating performances over Stanford and Arizona. The Utes don’t have a particularly intimidating passing attack, but leading rusher Zach Moss is always a threat to break loose and make great plays to get the team into the end zone. USC’s defense played great against Colorado, and the unit is going to need to keep it up against this strong Utah rushing attack.

Trojan running backs Aca’Cedric Ware and Stephen Carr couldn’t get much going on the ground against the Buffaloes last week, and they’ll face another stiff test against the Utes, who rank No. 2 in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game. Offensive coordinator Tee Martin is going to have to lean on the pass more if he wants to beat this strong Utah defense. Fortunately, quarterback JT Daniels is picking up steam, throwing for three touchdowns in last week’s win. He’s going to have to have a repeat performance if the Trojans are going to beat the Utes.

This game should be much closer than last week, especially on the road, but the Trojans should be able to squeak by with a win in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

USC 23 Utah 21


This is going to be an incredibly tough game for Clay Helton and his Trojan squad. After losing senior linebacker Porter Gustin for the season, the team has to travel into a hostile environment in Utah with an inexperienced, eighteen year old quarterback. Make no mistake, this Utah team is very good. They beat Stanford by 19, Arizona by 32, and nearly beat No. 25 ranked Washington St. on the road. USC has been shaky on the road so far this season, so they will need to play a mistake free game if they are going to win tomorrow.

Starting with JT Daniels, the first year quarterback needs to have a better start to this game than he did last week against Colorado. If he comes out and throws back to back interceptions to start this game, the Trojans are going to find themselves behind far too quickly. This Utah crowd will fire their team up and capitalize on any mistakes the Trojans make. If the Utes gain a lead, watch it potentially grow rapidly. If Daniels takes care of the football, and the defense limits the big plays, expect a close win. I am leaning more towards Utah coming out with too much energy for the young Trojans to match.

USC 17 Utah 35


After dominating Colorado through the air in the second quarter, coaching once again became a big question, as USC had just 17 pass yards in the second half and allowed Colorado to make it much closer than it really was. Winning 31-20 is still convincing, but because the game got so close at the end, star linebacker Porter Gustin had to stay on the field until the end and injured his ankle. He's now out for the season.

USC's defense dominated last week, but Gustin has seven of USC's 13 sacks. USC had no quarterback pressure against Washington State when Gustin did not play the first half, and a drastic change was seen when he got back in the game in the second half after serving his half-game suspension for targeting. With Gustin, I believe this game would come down to the last play. Without him, USC loses big.

Utah 38-21


The USC Trojans will come into Rice-Eccles Stadium with a lot to prove, as they have not won in Utah since 2012.

The Trojans will play in one of their most anticipated match-ups of the season this Saturday against the Utah Utes, which could be decisive game in who decides the Pac-12 South Champion. Currently, the Trojans are ranked first in the Pac-12 South, while the Utes are ranked second. But a Utes win this weekend could very well change that. The Utes will be sending out junior quarterback Tyler Huntley, who has played very well this season. With a total of 1,221 yards passing and only three interceptions, Huntley has led the Utes to a 4-2 record. In addition, the Utes bring a strong secondary, led by senior safety Marquise Blair who has been a dominant presence so far this year.

If the Trojans wish to win their fourth straight game, they will have to limit their mistakes and play defense like they did last week against the Colorado Buffaloes. USC limited the Buffaloes powerhouse running back to under 50 yards last week, AND have shown that they can match-up against the best in the country. The Trojans cannot only rely on their defense however, as they look for another spectacular performance from quarterback JT Daniels. After a rough start last week, Daniels settled in nicely throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns.

The Trojans will keep the game close against the Utes, as both defenses will dominate the entire game. It will only be a matter time before USC breaks through however, as Daniels will throw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to lead the Trojans to their fifth victory of the season.

Trojans 34-24.


It seems that year after year USC has to battle with Utah for bragging rights in the Pac-12 South. While in years past USC has come out on top, I feel this season’s match-up will be the Trojans’ toughest yet.

With an offense that is struggling to put away games and a defense while dominant, is getting destroyed internally by injuries, both sides of the ball will have to come out with their feet on the gas pedal. True freshman quarterback JT Daniels and his offensive line will have their work cut out for them against a powerful Utah defense. With Utes senior linebacker Chase Hansen and junior defensive end Bradlee Anae recording nine sacks between the two of them, Daniels will be running for his live if his offensive line don’t successfully block.

While having a freshman quarterback against a physical defense is daunting, Daniels is getting better with each game he plays. The young gun slinger is gaining confidence and poise in the pocket, and much like his predecessor Sam Darnold, has not cracked under pressure. With the trusty and mega-talented wide receiver corps Daniels has at his disposal, look for USC to strike through the air rather than on land.

Utah has the No. 2 rush defense in the nation, and while running backs Aca’Cedric Ware, Vavae Malepeai, and Stephen Carr all have star power, I predict that for the second week in a row the Trojans will struggle on the ground.

The Trojan defense is coming off a historic performance against the Colorado Buffaloes and will have to keep that dominance going to aid a struggling offense. I predict both Cameron Smith and Palaie Gaoteote will be good to go this Saturday after nursing injuries this week, and will have stand out performances holding Utes running back Zach Moss to under 100 yards, all while also making escaping hard for quarterback Tyler Huntley.

The story of this game will be both defenses’ dominant performances. It will be a close game that comes down to the last few seconds, but the Trojans will pull off a win thanks to a couple touchdown tosses by Daniels.

USC 23 Utah 21


How will the front-seven respond without Porter Gustin?

This has been the theme all week not just for this game, but for the remainder of the season. It’ll be up to guys like Jordan Iosefa and Christian Rector to create pressure and make the plays they’ve been missing all season.

But it won’t necessarily come down to the defense because it never does for this Trojan team—will this Trojan offense be able to make plays and control time of possession down the stretch?

While Aca’Cedric Ware and Stephen have identical workloads this year, 60 carries for Ware versus Carr’s 50—they struggled to run the ball last week against Colorado and have been flat throughout the season. With Michael Pittman Jr. finally breaking out last season, it gives the Trojan passing attack yet another wrinkle and shows another step forward for JT Daniels.

Make no doubt about it, this is a make-or-break game for USC’s Pac-12 South title hopes, and I expect a combination of heavy running and aerial playmaking against a strong Utah defense as USC wins this one in close fashion.

USC-33 Utah-27


As great as it was for USC to pick up the victory (and cover the spread) last week against undefeated Colorado, the chances of both happening again this week for the Trojans are essentially slim to none.

While Utah isn’t a powerhouse program that will keep fans and USC coaches up late at night like say Stanford or Texas have done in the past, the Utes are certainly capable of making this one coach Clay Helton will likely want to forget.

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley isn’t exactly Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, but he did have his team one play away from beating USC last year at the Coliseum against Sam Darnold & Co. Huntley also recorded a quarterback rating of 176.3 against Stanford, completing 17 of his 21 attempts for 199 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions in a victory for the Utes. That’s more than double USC signal caller JT Daniels’ 88.4 rating against the Cardinal back in early September. The quarterback match-up favors Utah and there’s no question that Utah coach Kyle Wittingham will have his team ready both physically and mentally for Saturday night. At times this season, it’s been quite the contrary for USC.

With linebacker Porter Gustin done for the season, the Trojans will have a taller order on defense in limiting Huntley and Utah junior running back Zack Moss. Add in the fact that the Trojans are underdogs again when they travel to Salt Lake City and the fact that Helton is winless when he’s getting points, it’s hard to see the men of Troy leaving with a victory and a firm grip on the lead for the Pac-12 South. I said to lay the points with USC last week (and the number covered) but the wise guys see this one getting out of hand again and I agree with them on this one.

Prediction: Utah 35, USC 17