Utah (6-0) vs. USC (3-3) 7:30 pm
Since 2012, USC is 2-1 against Utah winning by a score of 38-28 in 2012 and 19-3 in 2013. However, last season, Utah picked up the 24-21 victory in Salt Lake City scoring the game winning touchdown with less than one minute remaining on the clock.
The Utes are coming off of two impressive home victories over Cal and Arizona State in back to back weeks-scoring at least 30 points in each of those wins. Utah is averaging 36.5 points per game and is very balanced rushing for 192 yards per game and passing for 204 yards per game. Senior quarterback Travis Wilson is has looked very good in the system this season completing 67.9% of his passes for 980 yards with 7 touchdowns along with 3 interceptions. Wilson is a cagey quarterback that can break contain and make plays with his legs rushing for 203 yards on the ground with 3 scores. The Utes love to run the football with running back Devontae Booker between the tackles. Booker is a do-it all back that leads the team with 783 rushing yards averaging 4.8 yards per carry with 8 touchdowns. Booker is a durable back that is utilized in the screen game by head coach Kyle Whittingham and also leads the team in receptions with 23. However, in order to get the victory on the road, the Utes will need to stretch the Trojans secondary vertically with wide receivers Kenneth Scott and Britian Covey. Both players are reliable pass catchers that are not afraid to go over the middle and have combined for 43 receptions for 490 yards with 4 touchdowns. Utah can have success over the top of USC with the play action passing game if the Trojans look to stop the run on first and second down. Utah will not look to get into a shootout with USC on Saturday night as this type of game plan will not favor the Utes.
Defensively, Utah has feasted on being opportunistic this season and is second in FBS in turnover margin with a +12 margin. The Utes have created 8 turnovers over the last two games and will look to be very aggressive against the USC offense. The team is allowing 19.5 points per game. Utah is allowing 113 rushing yards per game and is giving up 256 passing yards per game. Through the first six games, the team has 16 sacks, which is a significant dropoff from last season, when the team led the FBS in total sacks with 55 overall. One of the reasons for Utah’s success on defense is the fact that this unit is very disciplined and does not commit costly penalties. The Utes are averaging 4.5 penalties per game and will look to force USC into a “blue collar” game with a slow tempo (much like the loss by USC to Washington two weeks ago). Utah will look to take way the deep ball by USC quarterback Cody Kessler and force short to intermediate throws by the Trojans offense.
The Trojans will look to rebound from a disappointing road loss to arch-rival Notre Dame 41-31 last week. USC showed positive signs offensively and will need to continue the momentum against a physical defense in Utah. The Trojans are averaging 38.3 points per game and will need to challenge Utah out on the perimeter on Saturday night. USC is rushing for 173 yards per game and passing for 337 yards per game. Quarterback Cody Kessler is completing 68.5% of his passes for 1,818 with 17 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Kessler can have success playing at home and must be able to work the middle of the field early on to in this matchup. If USC can have success hitting the dig routes over the middle, this will force the Utes safeties and cornerbacks to play the whole field. CAL had good success working the middle of the field against Utah and USC must take the same approach. If USC passes on first down, this can loosen up the Utes defensive front and open up running lanes for running back Ronald Jones (380 yards 8.6 yards per carry 3 TD’s). Utah faced a pro style attack week one against Michigan. However, the Wolverines offense did not have the offensive weapons that the Trojans possess and look for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to get involved early on in the contest. Smith-Schuster leads the team with 39 receptions for 758 yards with 7 touchdowns and USC will try to utilize his speed to create mismatches.
The Trojans defense must force Utah quarterback Travis Wilson to beat them over the top as USC must be able to stop the run in order to get the home win. USC is allowing 21.3 points per game and is surrendering 167 rushing yards per game to their opponents. The team is +3 in turnover margin and must be able to stuff running lanes and force Utah into passing situations. The Trojans are allowing 235 yards per game through the air and have 14 sacks through the first six games. Linebacker Scott Felix leads the team with 2.5 sacks and freshman linebacker Cameron Smith is having an excellent season leading the team with 53 total tackles.
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor atwww.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
Joe has a weekly radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com with former Georgia Bulldogs WR Corey Allen called: