By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
The Obvious: If ever the unranked USC Trojans (3-3 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) were going to make a statement in 2015, this Saturday afternoon would be the time as the Men of Troy host undefeated and the No. 3 Utah Utes (6-0 overall, 3-0 Pac-12) in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (4:30 p.m. PDT).
The Not So Obvious: So it has come to this, perhaps do or die for their Pac-12 South Division title hopes, and we’re still two weeks away from November. If the Trojans have any thoughts on winning the South Division and playing in the Pac-12 title game, they have to defeat Utah this weekend. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, this is probably it. A win and the Trojans have conference life; a loss and the Men Of Troy could be in serious jeopardy of appearing in a minor bowl or no bowl at all.
The Obvious: The Trojans are 3-point favorite to defeat Utah on Saturday.
The Not So Obvious: It is certainly food for thought when an unranked team is favored over the No. 3 team in the country. What would the odds have been had this game been played at Utah? Given the buildup this week, it will be interesting to see what the Coliseum attendance will be. The fact that the kick-off is at a reasonable hour on a Saturday afternoon could go a long way in upping the crowd count.
The Obvious: The USC/Utah game will be televised on FOX (4:30 p.m. PT/7:30 p.m. ET).
The Not So Obvious: The FOX broadcasters for Saturday afternoon’s game will be Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analysis), and Molly McGrath (sidelines).
The Obvious: The Trojans radio broadcast (ESPNLA 710 AM) will feature Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).
The Trojans four-hour pre-game show will commence at 12:30 p.m. (PDT) with Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, WeAreSC.com publisher Garry Paskwietz (1:35 p.m.), Steve Mason, Harvey Hyde, Katie Boggs, and Shaun Cody. There will be a two-hour post-game show following the conclusion of the game with Chris Fisher and Shaun Cody.
The Not So Obvious: The Utah broadcast can be heard on flagship station KALL 700 AM with Bill Riley (play-by-play), Frank Dolce (analyst) and Bo Nagahi (sidelines).
The Obvious: Through six games, the Trojans offense is averaging 38.3 points per game while the Utah defense is allowing 19.5 points per outing.
The Not So Obvious: Through six games, the Utah offense is averaging 36.5 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 21.3 points per game.
The Obvious: The Los Angeles weather report for Saturday calls for mostly sunny with a high of 90 and a low of 67 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether the Trojans can rally back from the Notre Dame defeat. We’ll also find out whether the Men of Troy will again succumb to a top-flight physical team on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Last weekend at Notre Dame, Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox believes the Trojans just had some breakdowns here and there, which hurt them badly against the Irish. There’s no question whether the Utes are a physical or that will challenge the Trojans down in the trenches. With senior defensive tackle Claude Pelon still unable to play on Saturday, we’ll find out whether the Trojans are physically strong enough and deep enough to withstand four quarters of Utah’s stout offensive line.
The Trojans defense will be challenged by Utes senior quarterback Travis Wilson, who will likely try to copy the blueprint set the previous week by Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, who really hurt the Men of Troy running the ball. We’ll find out whether the Trojans will again have problems with a quarterback that can rush out of the spread option. Then there is Utah’s future NFL running back Devontae Booker, a senior who is the Pac-12’s most physical back. Expect Booker to pound away throughout the game, especially when the Trojans young linebackers (Cameron Smith, Osa Masina, and Porter Gustin) are in the game.
Offensively, the Trojans will need a better effort from its offensive line, but whether they can do some rushing damage against the Utes powerful front remains to be seen. Utah has the Pac-12’s best team as it relates to defending the rush. The Trojans have proven vulnerable to a physical, attacking defensive front, and they’ll need to come to the Coliseum ready to rumble. Head coach Clay Helton said this week that two-way star Adoree’ Jackson will have increased playing time at wide receiver, which means less time at corner. The Trojans need to find another receiver that is able to take some of the load off of stellar sophomore JuJu Smith-Schuster. Unfortunately, that someone won’t be sophomore Steven Mitchell Jr. (ankle), who provides the Trojans with a long-range threat. Steven is still out and it appears that receiving mate Darreus Rogers (hamstring) is out, as well. Look for receiver Jalen Greene and Deontay Burnett and running back/receiver Dominic Davis to help out.
A major key to the game will be whether the Trojans O-line – with starting left tackle Chad Wheeler out (concussion), right tackle Zach Banner being moved to left tackle so true freshman Chuma Edoga replaces Banner at right tackle. This could also be the game in which super Trojans freshman running back Ronald Jones ll carries the pigskin more than he has in previous games.
In what figures to be a low-scoring game, the special teams should come into play. We’ll see whether the Trojans punter Kris Albarado and placekicker Alex Wood can outperform Utes punter Tom Hackett and placekicker Andy Phillips. In Australian Hackett and the dependable Phillips, Utah may have the best special team’s combo in the conference.
The Obvious: The Trojans interim head coach is Clay Helton, and he believes that Trojans still have the ingredients to be a great team but aren’t executing the way they are capable.
The Not So Obvious: Helton’s optimism may or may not be true, but he truly believes it. There wasn’t anybody in the post-game presser at Notre Dame that didn’t get how Helton feels about his team. Ask members of the Trojans team and Helton gets high marks. In fact one player said that Helton is good enough to be the Trojans head coach on a permanent basis, and if not he will one day be a head coach somewhere else. A high compliment to say the least.
The Obvious: The head coach of Utah is Kyle Whittingham, who is in his 11th season with the Utes.
The Not So Obvious: Whittingam, a grad of BYU, came to Utah as a defensive line coach, which shows you his expertise is on the defensive side of the ball. Whittingham is the only Utes coach who has been involved in all of Utah’s nine-consecutive bowl wins (1999-2009), which tied the second-longest bowl win streak in NCAA history. Whittingham was the head coach for six of those wins and the defensive coordinator for the first three. He was part of Urban Meyer’s Utah staff before Meyers moved to “greener pastures.”
The Obvious: Justin Wilcox is the Trojans beleaguered defensive coordinator.
The Not So Obvious: Assessing Saturday’s game with a power running Utah team, Wilcox said, “They’re a physical, physical team. It’s going to be a brawl.”
The Obvious: The Trojans have a winning career record over Utah.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans hold a 9-4 record over Utah, including 6-1 in Los Angeles.
The Obvious: The Utah offense is led by senior quarterback Travis Wilson, who is a graduate of local San Clemente (Calif.) High, which also produced current Trojans redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. Thus far, Wilson is a 67.9% passer this season, and ranks in the school’s career Top 5 in pass completions, attempts, yards, TDs and total offense.
The Not So Obvious: However, the big gun in the Utah offense is running back Devontae Booker (5-10, 212), a 2014 All-Pac-12 first team selection who leads the Utes in rushing and receiving and is in the national Top 10 in all-purpose running and rushing.
The Obvious: The Trojans defense is led by junior All-Pac-12 linebacker Su’a Cravens, who had 10 tackles last week against Notre Dame.
The Not So Obvious: The Utah defense is led by led by linebackers Gionni Paul and three-year starter Jared Norris, along with safety Marcus Williams, who has four interceptions this season.
The Obvious: The Trojans currently have two players on its roster from the state of Utah, OLB Porter Gustin from Salem Hills HS and ILB Osa Masina from Brighton HS.
The Not So Obvious: In its past history, USC has had only three lettermen from Utah: RE Joe Davis (1940-42) of Bountiful, FB Stanley Havili (2006-10) of Salt Lake City, and OG John Martinez (2010-13) of Murray.
The Obvious: Utah recruits extensively in California
The Not So Obvious: The Utes roster contains 40 Californians.
The Obvious: Osa Masina has lived up to his prep reputation as a true freshman for the Trojans.
The Not So Obvious: Osa’s brother, Uaea, is a sophomore linebacker at Utah.
The Obvious: And finally, as with every Coliseum home game, the Trojans will make in-game recognitions on the field and on the video board.
The Not So Obvious: Saturday is Trojans Family Weekend, with thousands of Trojan parents and family members joining their USC student(s) at the game. Troy’s defending Pac-12 champion women’s tennis team will be recognized during an on-field salute. Breast cancer survivors will be honored during the game.