12 min Read

O/NSO: Utah State edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

The Obvious: Still looking for their first touchdown of 2016 and hoping to rebound from week’s 52-6 embarrassing loss to No. 1 Alabama, the unranked USC Trojans (0-1, 0-0 Pac-12) host the unranked but undefeated Utah State Aggies (1-0, 0-0 Mountain West) this Saturday morning (11 a.m. PDT) in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious: Because of the 52-6 rout of the Trojans by Alabama, the home opener against the purported Utah State “gimmie” becomes a greater sense of urgency, and maybe this game will tell us more about the character and heart of Clay Helton’s 2016 Trojans. Trojans offensive coordinator Tee Martin called the Trojans loss to the Crimson Tide perhaps a “blessing in disguise.” Well, it will only be a blessing if these Trojans show more than they did last weekend in Dallas. More than a number of former notable Trojans players were deeply disturbed not only by the final score but even more so with the spirit of the team in the final three quarters of the contest. In fact, a number of those former players were beside themselves at the way the Trojans came out of the tunnel at AT&T Stadium prior to kickoff with a “new and untraditional” emotional entrance. About coming out of the Coliseum tunnel on Saturday against Utah State in a similar fashion, Helton said, “I would hope not.”

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 16 ½ -point favorite to defeat Utah State.

The Not So Obvious: Last season, the Aggies finished 6-7. The teams last met in 2013, and the Trojans held on 17-14 in Los Angeles. The Trojans lead in the series 5-0. In winning those games, the Men of Troy have outscored the Aggies, 230-43, winning by an average of 37 points.

The Obvious: The Trojans/Utah State game will be televised live on the Pac-12 Network (11 a.m. PDT).

The Not So Obvious: The Pac-12 broadcasters for Saturday morning’s kickoff will be Roxy Bernstein (play-by-play), Anthony Herron (analysis), and Kate Scott (sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans radio game broadcast of the USC/Utah State game will air live on ESPNLA 710 AM at 11:00 a.m. (PDT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans four-hour ESPNLA 710 pregame (7 a.m. PT) and two-hour post-game show on Saturday will feature Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Travis Rodgers, WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz, and WeAreSC contributor Jeremy Hogue.

The Not So Obvious: The Utah State broadcast can be heard on flagship station KVNU 610 AM with Al Lewis (play-by-play) and Craig Haslip (analyst). The game is also being broadcast on Sirius XM satellite radio (Channel 137/197) and on the Tuneln Rado app.

The Obvious: The Los Angeles game day weather on Saturday calls for sunny with a high of 81 and 62 percent humidity and a low of 63 degrees.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether the Trojans will be looking past Utah State to Stanford, which will be played in two weeks at The Farm. We’ll see whether Trojans fans will come out and literally will their heroes to play not only efficiently but with great passion despite the late morning kickoff. With an 11 a.m. kickoff, speculation is there could be under 50,000 fans when the pigskin is booted, which could negate a dominating home field advantage.

Offensively, the Trojans will need to prove whether last week’s power outage against Alabama was due to the NFL talent of the Crimson Tide defense or the Trojans own inability to execute. In the past, Clay Helton has said he doesn’t want a quarterback controversy, but he said this week that despite starting Max Browne playing admirably against Alabama, backup Sam Darnold will see red zone and situational duty. We’ll see whether this evolves into a future quarterback controversy. Scrutiny will shine the brightest on the Trojans offensive line and whether all the preseason hyperbole was really just a mirage or the Crimson Tide were really that good. Where was the promised physical running game that Helton has been promoting since spring ball? We’ll find out soon whether this objective is a reality or just words. Adding to the O-line questions is the awful news that veteran junior center Toa Lobendahn is out for the season with yet another knee injury, which now means he’s had major surgery on both knees. We’ll see whether junior backup Nico Falah, who started late last season when Lobendahn suffered a knee injury, can again do the job.

Trojans fans are getting concerned whether first-year offensive coordinator Tee Martin can generate an offense this week against a defense that should allow some points. There are reports that last week against Alabama Clay Helton took over Tee’s playcalling duties when things started really going downhill. Unlike Alabama, there should be no reason for the Trojans to be “uptight” against the upstart Aggies. We’ll see whether the Trojans offense is able to make a statement or show an identity for that matter. Some are already questioning the identity of the offense.

Defensively, we’ll find out whether the Trojans defenders can deal with yet another mobile quarterback that has no problem running the ball. You can bet the Utah State offense watched the Trojans defense against Alabama and probably feels they can run and pass the pigskin with some proficiency. The Aggies lead the nation in rushing, having grounded out 428 yards in their first game in a 45-6 trashing of Weber State. Whether the Aggies can duplicate the Alabama’s physical offense on land is doubtful, but if the Utah State gets on an offensive role, things could get mighty uncomfortable for those early risers in the Coliseum. All eyes will also be on defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and whether the defense will be disciplined and not make sophomoric secondary mistakes in terms of communication. We’ll also see whether Utah State “picks on” Trojans sophomore corner Iman “Biggie” Marshall, who was challenged successfully last week by Alabama. On a positive front, we’ll see whether the Utah State offense can control the Trojans outstanding sophomore middle linebacker Cameron Smith and whether they can do anything with the Men of Troy’s All-Pac-12 junior corner Adoree’ Jackson, who had an outstanding game against Alabama.    

The bottom line to Saturday’s game is whether the Trojans come out with their hair on fire or will they be vulnerable to a hungry Mountain West team that sees the opportunity to deck the hosts who are trying to get off the canvas. We’ll find out whether head coach Clay Helton and his staff can reenergize their team, find an offensive identity, cut down the mistakes on defense. Will the team respond? And equally important, will the Trojans fans in the Coliseum have patience if the Trojans sputter early in the game. With Stanford looming in the near future, the Trojans need a win – a big win – desperately.

The Obvious: The Trojans quarterback is Max Browne (6-5, 220), who last week against Alabama was 14 of 19 for 101 yards and no touchdown passes but one pick that went for a Crimson Tide score.

The Not So Obvious: Utah State’s quarterback is athletic junior quarterback Kent Myers (6-0, 200, Rowlett, TX), who ranks fifth in the Mountain West Conference and 54th nationally in completion percentage (.647). Trojans inside linebacker Cameron Smith says, “We have to focus on our assignments when he (Meyers) is running the football. That’s the main key.  We have to be aware of him and be ready for him to run the ball. I expect him to run a lot and scramble to get anything he can get. We have to focus on our assignments and we’ll be good. He’s a good guy and a good quarterback and likes to change his speed.”

The Obvious: Utah State defensive end Rick Ali’ifua made news earlier this week by saying he thinks the Trojans are beatable after watching the Alabama game first hand.

The Not So Obvious: Ali’ifua said, “I definitely feel that we have an opportunity to go in there and win. Obviously, we always feel that way against any team, but seeing it (the USC/Alabama game) first-hand I feel that there are some areas we can possibly expose against their offense.”

The Obvious: Last week, Trojans running backs combined for a total of just 64 yards against tough Alabama defense.

The Not So Obvious: Last week against Weber State, Utah State senior running back Devante Mays (5-11, 230, Livingston, TX) rushed for three touchdowns and 208 yards against Weber State, a mark that places him at 11.6 yards per carry.

The Obvious: With an 11 a.m. kickoff, Coliseum tailgaters will have to wake up mighty early to start the “brunch” festivities.

The Not So Obvious: The last time USC began a game before noon at home was the 1998 season opener against Purdue at 11:30 a.m. (the Trojans hosted Boston College in 2013 and Arizona State in 2012 in noon games). If you remember that Purdue game, it was major hot and got hotter in the fourth quarter.

The Obvious: Lynn Swann is the Trojans athletic director.

The Not So Obvious: Reflecting on the Alabama loss, Swann said in his recent State of Troy message, “One game, especially the first game, does not make a season and does not break a season. Everyone in the Trojan Family would have liked to have been on the right side of an upset win over the No. 1 team in the country, but we are a better football team than the score indicated. The lopsidedness of the score was an indication of a few mistakes, broken assignments and playing against an extremely talented and deep football team. We can correct those mistakes. Most teams in college football make their greatest improvement between the first and third games of the season. We are looking for a lot of improvement in terms of assignments, not making mistakes and playing better football in the second game of the season against Utah State.”

The Obvious: So early in the season, Trojans head coach Clay Helton, who has taken the Trojans to a bowl game as both an interim and permanent USC head coach, finds in himself already in a position of intense scrutiny after his team’s performance in the loss to No. 1 Alabama and the worst opening season loss in Trojans football history.

The Not So Obvious: Utah State’s head coach Matt Wells, who has an 0-4 record against Pac-12 opponents, has taken the Aggies to four consecutive bowl games, and UTS has actually been to a school-record five consecutive bowl games. Last season, Utah State was a two-point loser to Akron in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Under Wells, USU has won 15 of its last 29 road games dating back to the 2012 season.

The Obvious: The Trojans play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the playing field has no official name.

The Not So Obvious: Utah State plays in Maverick Stadium (22,059), and the field is named after defensive lineman Merlin Olson, the Los Angeles Rams great NFL Hall of Fame immortal and a member of the famed “Fearsome Foursome.”

The Obvious: Tommie Robinson is the Trojans running backs coach.

The Not So Obvious: Robinson coached the running backs at Utah State in 1992 and 1993, helping the Aggies to a win in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl.

The Obvious: USC is located in Los Angeles and the school has an enrollment of 43,000 (19,000 undergraduates) students.

The Not So Obvious: Founded in 1888, Utah State is located in Logan, Utah, and has an enrollment of 24,271(3,363 grad students).

The Obvious: The 2016  Trojans offense is averaging 6-points per game while the Utah State defense is allowing 6-points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The 2016 Utah State offense is averaging 45-points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 51.0 points per game.

The Obvious: The Trojans have three players on their roster from the state of Utah (DE Porter Gustin – Salem Hills HS), ILB Osa Masina – Brighton HS and DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu East HS via University of Utah).

The Not So Obvious: Utah State has 24 Californians on its roster. For the record, Utah State has 37 players on its roster from the state of Utah, while the Trojans have 72 players on its roster from California.

The Obvious: In its history, the Trojans have had five lettermen from Utah.

The Not So Obvious: Besides the aforementioned Gustin and Masina, the other three Trojan lettermen are RE Joe Davis (1940-42/Bountiful), FB Stanley Havili (2006-10/Salt Lake City) and OG John Martinez (2010-13/Murray). 

The Obvious: Former Trojans All-American tailback Marcus Allen remains one of the most iconic Trojans Heisman Trophy winners.

The Not So Obvious: The first 50,000 fans entering the Coliseum on Saturday will receive a free Marcus Allen bobblehead.

The Obvious: The Trojans have what most experts believe is the toughest schedule in the country.

The Not So Obvious: Speaking of schedules, fans attending Saturday’s game will receive a free 2016 USC Football Schedule Poster.

The Obvious: During Saturday’s game, the Trojans will again recognize individuals and teams that have contributed to the university’s success.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans 2016 NCAA championship women’s water polo and women’s beach volleyball teams will be saluted during the game, as will the 2016 NCAA individual champions (high jumper Randall Cunningham and 400-yard freestyle relay members Kasia Wilk, Kristen Vose, Chelsea Chenault and Anika Apostalon).

The Obvious: And finally, Tom Kelly will always be considered as the Trojans all-time radio and TV play-by-play icon.

The Not So Obvious: During Saturday’s game, there will be a moment of silence and an on-field presentation honoring the longtime USC broadcaster, who died in June after being the Voice of the Trojans for five decades.

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.

More Articles By Greg