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O/NSO: Utah edition

The Obvious from Salt Lake City: And so it has come to this: If the USC Trojans (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12 South) can upset the streaking Utah Utes (4-2, overall, overall, 2-2 Pac-12 South) on Saturday night (6 pm MT/5 pm PT) in hostile Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Men of Troy will be in the Pac-12 South Division driver’s seat with a clear shot to reach on the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game on Nov. 30 in Levi’s Stadium.

The Not So Obvious: Although a win at Utah won’t clinch the Pac-12 South Division, wins over lead divisional contenders Colorado and Utah would be key to the Trojans remainder of the conference schedule, which the rest of the way is very manageable unless there is a banana peel slipup of major proportions. Speaking of upcoming conference opponents, take into account that currently Arizona State, Oregon State, Cal and UCLA have a combined overall record of 8-17.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 6-point underdog at Utah.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans historically are unaccustomed to the underdog role, but it’s a reflection that Utah is widely considered the more physically dominate team on both sides of the ball than the Cardinal and Gold. Comparing scores can be a risky business in big games, but Utah waxed Stanford, 40-21, in early October while the Trojans were snuffed out by the Cardinal, 17-3, in early September. The Utes are physically aggressive, and the truth is the Trojans have given no indication against a physical team that they can compete with four quarters of smashmouth football. Against Stanford and Texas, the Trojans were simply physically inferior, and therein is the reason for concern against the Utes. The Trojans hold a decided edge in the Utah series (11-5), but the Men of Troy have lost their last two games in Salt Lake City, both on last-second TD passes. However, Clay Helton is 15-1 in south divisional play. The lone loss? Utah.

The Obvious: Saturday night’s game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network (6:00 p.m. MDT/ 5:00 p.m. PDT).

The Not So Obvious: The Pac-12 Network broadcasters will be Roxy Bernstein (play-by-play), Anthony Herron ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­(analyst) and Lewis Johnson (sidelines).

The Obvious: Because of the Lakers home opener on Saturday night, the Trojans’ radio broadcast from Salt Lake City will air live on 1110 AM (KRDC) and 99.1 FM (KGGI) at 5 p.m. (PDT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans radio game broadcast will be preceded by a four-hour pregame show beginning at 1 p.m. (PDT) and featuring Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Andy Kamenetsky, Chris Hale, Nick Alfano, and WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.

The Not So Obvious: The Utah broadcast can be heard on flagship station ESPN700 (KALL-AM) with Bill Riley (play-by-play), Scott Mitchell (analysts) and Tom Hackett (sidelines).

Saturday night’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (online channels 146/197 or online channel 959 and on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: USC football has been one of the most televised programs in college football history.

The Not So Obvious: This year is the 70th anniversary of Troy’s first regular season telecast, which was also its first from the Coliseum. It occurred against Utah in the 1948 season-opener. The game was shown live locally on what now is KCOP (Channel 13). The game, on Sept. 17, was the first program ever broadcast by Channel 13, which went on the air that day. The Trojans won, 27-0. (It, however, was not the first time the Trojans appeared on television, as their previous game– the 1948 Rose Bowl against Michigan in Pasadena following the 1947 season – aired locally on KTLA, Channel 5.)

The Obvious: Saturday’s Salt Lake City weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 69 degrees, a low of 46 degrees, 39 percent humidity, and 0 percent precipitation. Kickoff temp is expected to be 63 degrees.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans will be wearing their big boy pants when they are physically challenged by the rough and tumble Utah Utes. It’s really quite simple: If the Trojans don’t play hair-on-fire football on both sides of the line of scrimmage, it could be a long night, and that isn’t the normal hyperbole. Whether Clay Helton’s team is up to the task remains to be seen, but the incentive is there to show the country how they have improved since the Stanford and Texas defeats.

Offensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans can win the war at the line of scrimmage. We’ll find out whether Trojans’ true freshman quarterback JT Daniels wilts under the manly aggression of the Utah front 7, which also has one of the nation’s best run defenses. This will also be a major test for both Daniels and his O-line’s ability to keep the frosh signal caller vertical and healthy throughout the entire game. We’ll see if this USC offensive line, under the direction of coach Neil Callaway, is any better physically and mentally than they were against Stanford and Texas. Against lesser teams, the O-line has not played consistently and has also been subject to an assortment of unwanted penalties. Conversely, we’ll see whether Utah is ready for the improving Trojans receivers and the capable running backs. Of late, Trojans junior wide receiver Michael Pittman has been especially explosive. We’ll find out early whether the Trojans can establish any kind of running game. If they can, this would be a major advantage to the offense. This Utah defense can really bring it and are led by linebackers Chase Hansen, who is seventh nationally in tackles for loss, and Cody Barton.

Defensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans’ defense can be as hostile, mobile, and agile as they were last week against the Colorado offense. With the seasonal loss of senior captain, starting outside linebacker, and pass rushing demon Porter Gustin (broken right ankle), we’ll see whether this will have a major effect on Saturday night. Gustin, who hails from Utah, was visibly angry and disappointed moments after the Colorado game, and one could question why he was in the game in the first place with the contest basically decided. Gustin’s exit is an especially a big blow to the Trojans’ defense because this Utah offense is a whole different animal, an offense that would have played into Porter’s skill set. The Utes are balanced with an exceptionally physical running attack – not exactly a consistent USC strength both running the ball and defending the rush in 2018. We’ll see whether Trojans standout senior inside linebacker Cameron Smith (photo above), hobbled by a hamstring pull, and/or backup Palaie Gaoteote, who has cleared concussion protocol, get quality playing time. Helton calls both players “game time decisions.” If one or both can’t go, we’ll see whether third string senior Reuben Peters can play as effectively as he did against Colorado. With these key injuries, we find out whether the Trojans can contain productive junior quarterback Tyler Huntley (108-of-163, 63.9%, 1,221 yds, 7 TD, 3 int in 2018, plus 75 tcb, 207 yds, 2.8 avg, 3 TD), running back Zack Moss (a 2000-yard career rusher), and receiver Britain Covy (23rd in the nation in receptions, averaging 6.5 receptions, third in Pac-12). FYI, the Utes are coming off back-to-back 400-plus total offensive yard games.

On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll see whether the Trojans can match the elite Utah special teams. Thus far, the Trojans have gotten good production from placekicker Michael Brown and kickoff starter Alex Stadthaus. Some of the other areas of USC special teams have been up (block kicks) and down (penalties and coverage). On the other hand, Utah presents placekicker Matt Gay (8-of-11 FG, 21-of-21 PAT in 2018), a two-time All-American (2016-17) who won the 2016 Ray Guy Award, and punter Mitch Wishnowsky (44.6 avg.), a 2017 All-American when he captured the Lou Groza Award.

The Obvious: The Trojans’ offense is averaging 25.67 points per game while the Utah defense is allowing 16.0 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans’ defense is allowing 25.17 points per game while the Utah offense is averaging 28.5 points per game.

The Obvious: Kyle Whittingham is in his 14th season as the Utah head coach.

The Not So Obvious: Whittingham, the Pac-12’s most tenured coach, was asked if the Trojans and Utah game is becoming “a rivalry.” The Utah head coach said, “Yeah I think that might be an accurate description and is heading in that direction. It has been back and forth with close and competitive games. Obviously, last year it went right down to the wire with the two-point conversion we weren’t able to convert. So yeah, I’d say there is some validity to that in my opinion.”

The Obvious: The Trojans quarterback is JT Daniels, the 2017 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year.

The Not So Obvious: The Utah quarterback is junior Tyler Huntley (6-1, 200) from Hallandale High in Dania, Florida, who was the 2015 Florida Gatorade Football Player of the Year.

The Obvious: The Trojans have three players from the state of Utah (OLB Porter Gustin of Salem Hills HS, DL Jay Tufele of Salt Lake City Bingham HS, ILB Taylor Katoa of Layton HS).

The Not So Obvious: Utah has 31 players from California.

The Obvious: The Utah student body cheering section is one of the Pac-12’s most vocal and organized sections in the conference.

The Not So Obvious: The Utah student cheering section is known as the MUSS. Named a Top 5 student section by the NCAA and a storied college football tradition by ESPN, the MUSS helps make Rice-Eccles Stadium one of the hardest places to play with traditions including the 3rd Down Jump, False Start Tally and more. The MUSS is limited to 6,000 students and costs $50 for the season. It includes a t-shirt, reserved seating at each home game and food at the pre-game tailgate.

The Obvious: There has always been controversary whenever the Trojans contemplate tinkering with their traditional uniforms without exception.

The Not So Obvious: As part of Utah’s homecoming game, the Utes will wear throwback uniforms against the Trojans.

The Obvious: One of the annual events during the Trojans football season is the Parent-Family Weekend.

The Not So Obvious: Besides being Utah’s homecoming game on Saturday night, it will also be the Utes’ Parent-Family Weekend.

The Obvious: Los Angeles will host to the 2028 Summer Olympic Games.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have played football in three stadiums that hosted Olympics’ opening/closing ceremonies: Los Angeles Coliseum (1932 and 1984 Summer Games), Tokyo Olympic Stadium (1964 Summer Games) and Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City (2002 Winter Games).

The Obvious: USC has an enrollment listed at 45,000 students.

The Not So Obvious: Utah has an enrollment listed at 32,760 students.

The Obvious: And finally, when the Trojans return home, it will be next Saturday afternoon hosting Arizona State.

The Not So Obvious: If the Trojans can pick up a win against Utah, the ASU game will become the big one because it’s another Pac-South encounter. One thing that can be said, November might be winning time, but October is mandatory winning time.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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