The Obvious from Los Angeles: Prior to Friday night’s (6 p.m. PDT) huge Pac-12 South Division battle between the host USC Trojans (2-1, 1-0 Pac-12) and the No. 10 Utah Utes (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12) in the Coliseum, USC President Carol Folt will be officially inaugurated in Alumni Park on campus (10 a.m.), and Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton and his cardinal and gold team would love nothing better than to present the new CEO the ultimate inauguration gift by pulling off a Pac-12 upset on national television.
The Not So Obvious: Let’s not forget that Dr. Folt was all smiles with former USC athletic director Lynn Swann when the Trojans thrashed Stanford, 45-20, and then the following Monday, Swann “resigned” immediately in a closed-door meeting with the new USC Prez. However, if the Trojans should lose to the Utes, it’s not expected that Helton will be relieved of his coaching position the following Monday, but the coach needs every win he can get, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to combine Dr. Folt’s earlier day inauguration euphoria with a big Pac-12 victory win on Friday night. Getting a victory in the Pac-12’s biggest Game of the Year to date is a must win for Gentleman Clay and his team, especially with upcoming road games at Washington and Notre Dame.
The Obvious: Utah opened up a 3 ½ -point favorite to defeat the Trojans.
The Not So Obvious: If the Trojans can pull the upset on Friday, it would mean that Utah is still looking for its first victory in Los Angeles since 1916 when the game was played in L.A.’s Fiesta Park and dinosaurs were roaming La Brea Tarpits (wink). For the record, the Utes losing streak in Los Angeles currently stands at eight games.
The Obvious: Friday night’s game will be televised on FS1 (6 p.m. PDT/ 9 p.m. EDT).
The Not So Obvious: The FS1 broadcasters will be Joe Davis (play-by-play), Brock Huard (analyst) and Bruce Feldman (sidelines).
The Obvious: Friday night’s Trojans’ radio game broadcast from the Coliseum will begin airing live on KABC 790 AM (6 p.m. PDT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline). John Jackson will on occasion provide selective perspective.
The Trojans’ broadcast from the Coliseum on KABC AM 790 will begin with a two-hour pregame show beginning at 4 p.m. (PDT), and joining the game broadcast crew will be Sam Farber, former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne, and Julia Adams. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.
The Not So Obvious: The Utah broadcast can be heard on Utah flagship station ESPN 700 with Bill Riley (play-by-play), Scott Mitchell (analyst) and Tom Hackett (sidelines).
ESPN radio will also have a national broadcast with Mark Kestecher (play-by-play) and Ben Hartock (analyst).
Friday night’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channels 83/83 or online channel 83) and on the Tunein Radio app.
The Obvious: Friday’s Los Angeles weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 79 degrees, low of 63 degrees, 61 percent humidity, and 0 percent precipitation. Temperature for kickoff is expected to be sunny and 76 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans can eliminate the mistakes they made against BYU in that heartbreaking 30-27 overtime loss in Provo last Saturday. We’ll find out whether the Trojans can rise to a level of physicality to match the Utes vaunted “manly” power on both sides of the line of scrimmage. After watching the loss to BYU (2-1), many were left wondering what kind of team Clay Helton is putting on the field, but the good or bad news is that Utah game should provide a lot of answers.
Offensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans offensive line can handle the best defensive front they will see outside of Washington and Notre Dame. Utah has held its first three opponents to under 100 yards rushing, and the Utes defense ranks 12th nationally in tackles for losses. Call Friday night’s game a put up or shut up game for the Trojans’ O-line, which was physically dominated for much of the BYU game. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t especially encouraging with Utah, Washington and the likes of Notre Dame upcoming. As for Trojans true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, he was expected to sooner or later take his lumps during a learning season as the USC quarterback. Whether he’ll have another game as wonderful as Stanford remains to be seen. Kedon, however, found out last Saturday what a real physical front looks like in BYU, and to his credit, he never stopped competing even in his forgettable moments (3 interceptions). No doubt he learned a lot, so we’ll see whether those literally painful experiences are lessons that have been learned.
Because Utah is so physical up front on defense, we’ll see if the Trojans’ own offensive coaching staff decides that more playing time is needed for redshirt sophomore running back Markese Stepp (6-0. 235), who showed at BYU why he should be playing more. Averaging over 5 yards per carry at BYU, he has earned more carries. As for the USC receivers, they’ll face a secondary that is pretty tough and made tougher with a violent pass rush led by two future NFL’ers in DE Bradlee Anae and senior DT Leki Fotu. The Trojans’ receivers will need to play their best game of the season if the Cardinal and Gold has a solid chance for an upset. Perhaps the Trojans will be able to locate sophomore receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown this week after the former Mater Dei superstar was nearly invisible last week at BYU, although St. Brown is nursing a foot issue. Finally, with all eyes now trained on Trojans’ OC Graham Harrell, we’ll see how the young offensive coordinator reacts to some questioning his play calling. During the week, Harrell said he liked what he called during the game, but that the Trojans have to execute his directions.
Defensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans’ defense, especially the front seven can hold its own both physically and discipline-wise against a well-oiled Utah attack. In its first three games, Utah’s offense has 30 or more points per game. It’s not exactly a family secret that traditionally USC defenses have had a helleva time containing a dual-threat quarterback- not a good sign when one’s defense also has a hard time tackling the opponent. Whether the Trojans can handle Utah’s dangerous senior quarterback Tyler Huntley and senior running mate Zack Moss, who could be a first of second around draft pick, is a major question. Moss could be as good a running back as the Trojans will face this season, and we all know how the Trojans have defended an option game – like not very good. And just when you think the Utes can be defended on the ground, there’s explosive junior WR Britain Covey, who is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
The Trojans’ defense is hoping to get back captain and starting defensive end Christian Rector (ankle) with hopes of bringingmore discipline on the edge. He is listed as questionable. It remains to be seen whether the Trojans’ defensive line can improve enough to even be a factor against the RPO work of the Utah offense. Many believe the Utes will dominate the Trojans defense in the tense second half of Friday night’s game, so the Trojans’ defenders better be ready for a slugfest with the Utes’ offensive line. A key will also be the play of USC sophomore inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, who some are now questioning whether the physically talented athlete should move to the outside linebacker spot to perhaps get become more disciplined and thus more productive. We’ll find out whether the Trojans secondary can maintain their discipline against a team that has an option game and can also pass the ball. We’ll also see whether redshirt freshman corner Isaac Taylor-Stuart plays (concussion protocol). If not, expect true freshman Chris Steele to start.
On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll see whether the Trojans’ redshirt freshman Australian punter Ben Griffiths (37.11 avg.) can outduel Utah’s freshman Australian punter Ben Lemmon (39.8 avg.). Field position figures to be critical in a game like this. We’ll also see whether Trojans’ sophomore field goal specialist Chase McGrath, who had a 52-yarder against BYU that sent the game into overtime, can win his potential one-on-one with Utah’s senior field goal kicker Andrew Strauch, who has 41-yarder to his credit this season. Don’t be surprised, however, if Kyle Whittingham calls on true freshman field goal kicker Jadon Redding, who has a 35-yarder under his belt. We’ll see whether the Trojans can get some type of production from the punt return game, which has been relatively blah up to this point in return yardage. We’ll find out whether the Trojans’ special teams can contain Utah’s explosive junior punt returner Britain Covey, a true game-changer.
The Obvious: Clay Helton is the Trojans’ fourth-year head coach.
The Not So Obvious: In assessing Kedon Slovis after his prized true freshman quarterback threw three interceptions last week at BYU and now must face a vaunted Utah defense, Helton said, “I would be shocked if he doesn’t have a great game. He’s had a great week of practice. You can tell his jaw is set. He’s fired up to get back out on the field and prove something.”
The Obvious: Kyle Whittingham, 59, is in his 15th season as Utah’s head coach.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding the Trojans, Whittingham said, “They’ve got talent. It’s SC. Nothing different than what we’ve experienced for what, nine years now?
“It’s challenging. They have their pick of the litter down there in southern Cal, a fertile recruiting ground. They really draw a 30-mile radius around their campus, and that’s where they recruit.”
The Obvious: The Trojans’ offense averages 34.33 points per game while the Trojans defense allows 24.33 points per game.
The Not So Obvious: Utah’s offense averages 32.0 points per game while the Utes’ defense allows 9.7 points per outing.
The Obvious: The starting quarterback for Utah is senior Tyler Huntley (6-1, 205), who is very much a dual-threat to the Trojans’ defense.
The Not So Obvious: In last season’s 41-28 victory over the Trojans in Salt Lake City, Huntley was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for his 341 yards passing (22-of-29) and four touchdowns, along with 33 rushing yards and a touchdown. FYI, in 2015, Huntley was named the Florida Gatorade Football Player of the Year in high school.
The Obvious: The Trojans were not strong in defending the rush in 2018, and there is fear that may be the case in 2019.
The Not So Obvious: While the Trojans will have their hands full with Utah QB Tyler Huntley, the Trojans’ must equally defend senior running back Zack Moss (5-10, 222). In Utah’s game against the Trojans last season, Moss had 25 carries for 140 yards. Moss is a bull and arm tackling just won’t stop him.
The Obvious: There is little doubt that Friday night’s game with Utah could very well define the character of the 2019 Trojans.
The Not So Obvious: According to Trojans’ junior nose tackle Brandon Pili, “I think how we respond from that loss (BYU) is going to determine what kind of team we’ll be this season.”
The Obvious: The Trojans have one player from the state of Utah, defensive tackle Jay Tufele (Bingham HS).
The Not So Obvious: Utah has 36 Californians on its roster.
The Obvious: The Trojans’ defensive line coach is Chad Kauha’aha’a.
The Not So Obvious: Coach K played at Utah (1993, 1995-96) and then was an assistant coach at Utah (2011-12).
The Obvious: Friday night games are not well-received by SoCal fans due to the weekend getaway freeway traffic – not to mention it’s a normal workday.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans’ first Friday night game against Utah was on Sept. 17, 1948. The contest was also Troy’s first televised game in the Coliseum and first televised regular season contest, as well as the first program ever broadcast on local Channel 13 (KLAC-TV then), which went on the air that same day.
The Obvious: Some were surprised before the season when it was announced that such a big game between the Trojans and Utes would be played on a Friday night.
The Not So Obvious: A little bit of history, the first time the Trojans played Utah at night was in 1948, a 27-0 USC win, and the other time was in 2017 in the Utes’ last visit to the Coliseum, a 28-27 Trojans victory.
The Obvious: And finally, a Trojans home game will provide for recognitions throughout the game.
The Not So Obvious: The headliner being recognized on Friday night will be new USC President Dr. Carol L. Folt, who will be saluted during the game.