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An early look at the Utah Utes

The road to the Pac-12 title game starts now.

As the Trojans sit halfway through the regular season they are well positioned to make a run at a berth in the conference title game and the goal of being Pac-12 champions. USC is sitting at 5-1 overall, 3-1 in conference games against Northern division opponents, and atop the Southern division standings. All of the remaining conference games will be against Southern opponents, beginning this weekend with a big match-up against the Utah Utes (4-1, 1-1 overall).

You have to give Utah credit for what they’ve done since joining the conference as they have raised their game and become a legitimate contender in recent years. It starts at the top with head coach Kyle Willingham in his 13th season leading the program, and they are consistently known for solid defensive line play and special teams.

Of course, they were also the team that beat the Trojans last season in Sam Darnold’s debut as a starting quarterback, and they have defeated USC twice in the last 3 years, but history has not been as kind to the Utes in the Coliseum as they are 0-5 in games played at the Grey Lady. The game on Saturday will be the first time the Utes have appeared in a prime-time ABC national broadcast, with a 5pm start time.

On offense, it could be one of two quarterbacks (or both) that the Trojans will see in this game. Tyler Huntley won the job in fall camp over incumbent Troy Williams but Huntley got injured (shoulder) and has missed the last game and a half. Before he got hurt Huntley was 2nd nationally in completion percentage (73%) and was also the 2nd leading rusher for the Utes. Williams has stepped in as a veteran who was at the helm for the victory over USC last year, and he will be coming back to LA for the final time to play in his hometown.

Zach Moss is the leading rusher behind an experienced offensive line that has played the same 5 starters in every game this year but the Utes also have firepower on the outside led by Oregon transfer Darren Carrington, who ranks 5th in the nation in receiving yards.

To no surprise, Utah is strong on the d-line with all four starters in consideration for post-season honors. Lowell Lotulelei leads the way as a four-year starter and all-conference pick, and Filipo Mokofili joins him to provide a stout duo in the middle of the line. Former USC verbal Kyle Fitts leads the DL in tackles from his end spot.

The leading tacklers on Utah’s defense are senior LBs Sunia Tauteoli (11 tackles and a fumble recovery last year vs USC) and Kavika Luafatasaga while the Utes are also strong against the pass (ranked seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense (99.6, first in Pac-12).

Utah has a pair of the nation’s top specialists in junior P Mitch Wishnowsky (45.9 P avg in 2017), the 2016 Ray Guy Award winner and a consensus All-American, and senior PK Matt Gay (16-of-17 FG, 16-of-16 PAT in 2017), who leads the nation in field goals (3.2, first in Pac-12) and is second in scoring (12.8, first in Pac-12) in his first season as a collegiate kicker after a soccer career at Utah Valley University.

Pac-12 Conference Standings
South ……………………………….. Pac-12 ……………. Overall
USC ………………………………….. 3-1………………….. 5-1
Utah ………………………………….. 1-1………………….. 4-1
Arizona ……………………………… 1-1………………….. 3-2
UCLA ………………………………… 1-1………………….. 3-2
Arizona State ……………………… 1-1………………….. 2-3
Colorado ……………………………. 0-3………………….. 3-3

North ………………………………… Pac-12 ……………. Overall
Washington ………………………… 3-0………………….. 6-0
Washington State ……………….. 3-0………………….. 6-0
Stanford …………………………….. 3-1………………….. 4-2
Oregon ………………………………. 1-2………………….. 4-2
California …………………………… 0-3………………….. 3-3
Oregon State ……………………… 0-3………………….. 1-5



Garry Paskwietz
Author
Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.


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