USC will attempt to right the ship against the No. 10 Utah Utes. It won’t be an easy task as the Utes bring in the top defense in the Pac-12. The winner will control their fate moving forward in the Pac-12 south. USC is itching to bounce back from their loss to BYU, but what will it take to pull off the upset at the Coliseum?
Win the battle in the trenches
This is the main battle that the Trojans must win if they want to defeat Utah. The Utes defensive line has the potential to bring trouble to a USC offensive line that had issues with BYU’s three man front. Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae and defensive tackle Leki Fotu will be a tough task to handle, but if the Trojans offensive line can give freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis time and give the a good push for the running game then there's no reason to believe that the offense can function better than last week. That maybe easier said than done.
Slovis looked very much like a freshman against BYU. He skipped reads, threw three interceptions, threw into double and quadruple coverage, you can check the boxes for a lot of freshmen mistakes. That’s no excuse for him, but it was a complete change from his performance against Stanford two weeks ago. Slovis will have to step up once again in a huge marque game against the conference’s best defense. He can’t try to force throws against this defense or else they’re going to make him and the USC offense pay.
Graham Harrell Adjustments
Harrell is will also be a key factor to Friday’s game. Against Stanford the Air raid went right to where he didn’t have to adjust, however against BYU the lack of adjustments were just as much of a reason why the Trojans lost in overtime as Slovis was. He won’t have the luxury of running the ball against a three man front and he’ll have to call plays to get the ball into the hands of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, Michael Pittman Jr. and other playmakers and allow for them to make plays. Maybe bubble screens if corners play soft coverage like BYU did last week. Harrell has to decide if this is the Air Raid or the “Gumbo” offense that we’ve seen, he’ll also have to make adjustments as the defense adjust which means taking what’s given to them and utilizing the play makers like he’s been preaching this season.
Contain and Pressure Tyler Huntley
USC and mobile quarterbacks have been a pain for the Trojans this season. They failed to contain Jorge Reyna week 1 and Zach Wilson last weekend. They now get a quarterback ho can really burn them in Utah Quarterback Tyler Huntley. Last season Huntley threw for 341 and four touchdowns against USC. Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has to be wiling to dial up blitzes to get to the quarterback and throw off his timing. Pendergast hasn’t blitzed as often as he has the last couple of season’s, but Friday he’ll have to throw it out there be aggressive against Huntley. They’ll have to also wrap him up and tackle, something that the defense has had issues with this season. USC senior defensive end Christain Rector could return this week after missing the BYU game and could help USC in that area.
Contain the run game
The inside run haven’s been the key issue against USC, however the lack of containing runs to the outside on reverses and so on have really hurt them the last three weeks. Utah is more of a physical power running team and who could blame them? Utes running back Zack Moss currently averages 6.5 yards per carry. He also leads the team in rushing with 373 yards and 4 touchdowns. There’s no doubt the Trojans can control the inside game, however they must contain the misdirections and reverses that allow the Utes to get to the outside. Every offensive coordinator who’s seen tape on the Trojans defense know that it’ll get them every time.
Utah and USC currently are one of the lowest penalized teams in the Pac-12 conference. The game will boil down to turnovers and penalties. USC gifted BYU a short field and 10 points early on due to two interceptions. They can repeat that against Utah if they want to win on Friday night. The Trojans must take care of the ball and limit drive killing penalties/penalties that extends the Utah offense. Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham has done a good job with the discipline of this team and they won’t make many mistakes. USC has to do the same and play a clean football game.
Make Special Teams Great Again
USC was supposed to improve correct? So why hasn’t that been a thing? Between illegal wedge blocks, two players wearing the same number on a kick return, and Ben Griffiths being less than stellar, the special teams game has been a bust. USC special teams coordinator John Baxter must fix something because this can’t be continuous against Utah on Friday. One of the few bright spots has been Chase McGrath nailing field goals and Velus Jones Jr. returning kicks, however other than that USC must turn it around against the Utes. Which means seeing Griffiths booming kicks as advertised and pinning Utah back, not making boneheaded penalties and illegal formations on kickoffs. Baxter...Make USC Special Teams great again.