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O/NSO: Utah edition

The Obvious: It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the No. 13 USC Trojans (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) play their biggest game of the season on Saturday evening (5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET) in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The challenger is the always tough, physical, and Pac-12 South Division foe, the Utah Utes (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12). Saturday’s winner will make huge inroads in the Pac-12 South Division race and position themselves for a spot in the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game in early December.

The Not So Obvious: If the Trojans are to defeat the brute force of the Utes in L.A., they’ll need to play at a level that perhaps was only last seen against Stanford back on Sept. 9, a 42-24 victory over the Cardinal, a team that defeated Utah 24-20 last Saturday night in Salt Lake City. Saturday’s Utah game will probably confirm where Clay Helton’s team is at the midpoint of this season and could dictate the foreshadowing of the immediate future – think Notre Dame the following Saturday. Here’s what the O/NSO wants to know: Was the Trojans’ physically dominating presence against Stanford an anomaly for four quarters or have the Men of Troy been lying in waiting for the arrival of the physical Utes? The answer envelope, please.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 11-point favorite to defeat Utah.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans hold a 10-5 record over Utah, including 7-1 in the Coliseum. The last time Utah won in Los Angeles was in 1916. However, Utah has won two of the last three contests in the series, including last season’s last-second Friday night victory in Utah, a game in which current Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold made his first career start. BTW, this is the second time that the Trojans have hosted Utah for a night game. The first time was in 1948, a 27-0 Trojans triumph.

The Obvious: Saturday’s game featuring the Trojans and Utah will be nationally televised on ABC (5 p.m. PT/ 8 p.m. ET).

The Not So Obvious: The ABC broadcasters for Saturday’s game will be Steve Levy (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analysis), and Todd McShay (sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans’ game radio broadcast from the Coliseum will air live (5 p.m. PT) on ESPNLA 710 AM with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans’ ESPNLA 710 pregame show (1 p.m. PT) and two-hour post-game show will feature a variety of talent, which includes Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Travis Rodgers, Dennis Thurman, Rachel Frain, and WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz.

The Not So Obvious: The Utah broadcast can be heard on flagship station ESPN(700AM) with Bill Riley (play-by-play), Frank Dolce (analyst) and Bo Nagahi (sideline). Saturday’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (online channel 84) and on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Los Angeles weather forecast for kickoff calls for a high of 87 degrees, a low of 60 degrees, 29 percent humidity, and 0 precipitation.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans are still improving and able to match physical wills with a very tough and determined Utah Utes program that prides itself on manly football and a rugged, aggressive defense. We’ll find out whether the Trojans have been sandbagging a bit in previous weeks in preparation for Saturday’s Pac-12 South Division showdown, and this is a showdown. We’ll see offensively whether Trojans’ quarterback Sam Darnold can work his magic once again with the help of an offensive line under intense scrutiny and with an emerging wide receiver star in redshirt freshman Tyler Vaughns. The big news is that star sophomore tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, out with an injury, actually practiced this week, but we’ll see whether he actually plays in Saturday’s game. The Trojans will need junior tailback Ronald Jones ll to carry the load, and we’ll see whether he can deliver some long-distance scoring jaunts to put pressure on the Utes’ defense. The other good news is starting offensive right tackle Chuma Edoga has also returned from injury… Utah’s defense ranks in the Top 25 in pass efficiency defense, rushing defense, total defense, and scoring defense. Top Utah defenders include linebackers Sunia Tauteoli and Kavika Luafatasaga and safeties Marquise Blair and Chase Hansen… Defensively for the Trojans, we’ll find out whether the Cardinal and Gold can contain the Utes’ running attack and adequately defend either duel-threat quarterbacks, sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley, the Utes’ starter until a shoulder injured sidelined him after the fourth game, or senior signal caller Troy Williams, who burned the Men of Troy last season in Utah. Obviously, the Utes will run at the Trojans defensive front, which has had mixed reviews defending the rush. It didn’t help matters along the Trojans’ D-line when it was learned this week that super true freshman DT Marlon Tuipulotu is lost for the season (lower back surgery). It means that Utah will likely test at some point another prized true freshman nose tackle in Brandon Pili, who received fine reviews in last weekend’s game against Oregon State. Aside from the D-line news, we’ll find out whether the Trojans secondary can diagnose and contain either Utah quarterback, as it pertains to both running and throwing the pigskin. The Trojans will also have to be aware of Utah wide receiver Darren Carrington ll, an Oregon transfer, who can score from anywhere.

The Obvious: The 2017 Trojans’ offense averages 35.50 points per game while the Utah defense is allowing 18.4 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The 2017 Utah offense averages 32.0 points per game while the Trojans’ defense is allowing 23.17 points per game.

The Obvious: Kyle Whittingham returns for his 13th season as the head coach the Utah.

The Not So Obvious: On facing the Trojans, Whittingham says,We’ve got the Trojans at their place. They are a talented football team, as they are every single year. Sam Darnold, he has had a few setbacks this year, but I think he is just terrific. He is a phenomenal quarterback and a great athlete. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the country without a doubt. We are going to have our work cut out for us on defense to try and slow them down. Offensively, we have to get things figured out. We have to put more points on the board and we just have to play better.”

The Obvious: Quarterback Sam Darnold remains the key to the Trojans’ offense.

The Not So Obvious: Because the Utah game is so big, it’ll be interesting to see what new plays – if any – will be installed by Trojans’ offensive coordinator Tee Martin to get the inconsistent but “balanced” offense humming. All through last spring and into the summer, the Trojans coaching staff has been tweaking the mechanics of Sam Darnold’s delivery. Is it working? We’ll get a definitive answer Saturday evening when Utah and its vaunted physical defense takes dead aim at the Trojans’ celebrated quarterback. If Trojans offensive coordinator Tee Martin along with passing game coordinator Tyson Helton are going to deliver a gold standard offensive game plan, this is the game to do it.    

The Obvious: The Utah quarterback will be either sophomore Tyler Huntley (6-1, 190) or senior Troy Williams (6-2, 208).

The Not So Obvious: Tyler Huntley, a native of Dania, Florida, was the Utes’ starting quarterback until knocked out of the Arizona game in the first half and was held out last week against Stanford for precautionary reasons. The kid is a real threat. Most Trojan fans remember Troy Williams as last season’s Utes’ quarterback who threw a dagger 18-yard TD pass to wide receiver Tim Patrick with just 16 seconds remaining in the game to pull out a 31-27 victory over the Trojans. Williams is a local product out of Harbor City Narbonne HS who transferred to Utah from Santa Monica CC.   

The Obvious: The Trojans have had success with walk-on true freshman placekicker Chase McGrath (8 of 9 FGs) with additional support from junior walk-on punter Reid Budrovich.

The Not So Obvious: Utah has two of the nation’s top specialists, as well, in punter Mitch Wishnowsky, the 2016 Ray Guy Award winner and consensus All-American, and placekicker Matt Gay, who leads the nation in field goals (16) and is second in scoring in his first season a college kicker.

The Obvious: The Utah offense is ranked ninth in Pac-12 offense.

The Not So Obvious: Assessing Utah’s offense, which has a new offensive coordinator in Troy Taylor, Trojans’ DC Clancy Pendergast said, “They’re doing some of the same things they did in the past in the running game and pass protection wise. Their biggest difference is their concepts in the passing game. They’re probably using more four and five receiver sets than they have in the past. They’re offensive coordinator had been at Eastern Washington before and the offensive coordinator at Cal, so there is some similarities there in the concepts that they use.”  

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

The Not So Obvious: Utah has 24 players on its roster from Southern California.

The Obvious: And finally, the Trojans will as always at a home games recognize and salute individuals and/or groups.

The Not So Obvious: Saturday evening’s game marks the continuation of Trojans Family Weekend, with thousands of parents and family joining their USC students at the game. There will also be recognition of Troy’s defending national champion women’s soccer team.

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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