USC (4-3, 1-2) and Utah (4-3, 1-3) both enter the game with records that could easily be much improved. Utah has dropped close games to Oregon State and UCLA, but have a quality win having defeated Stanford on October 12.
Meanwhile, USC has two woeful losses thus far. The first came in a futile offensive performance the second week of the season against Washington State.
For different reasons than their second-week loss, the Trojans’ offense once again struggled against Notre Dame and USC lost despite holding the Irish to under 50 yards in the second half.
USC may need to rely on walk-ons for their game against Utah, but the beat goes on, and if the Trojans can execute on their keys, they could walk out of the Coliseum with a victory.
1. Stay “healthy”
This is clearly beyond USC’s control as injuries are unpredictable, but the Trojans can ill afford to lose more bodies.
The Trojans entered each of their last two games dealing with significant injuries, and have lost additional players in both games.
USC may only have two scholarship wide receivers available and may be without a scholarship tight end. Should they suffer more injuries, the Trojans may need to rely on players on the scout team and/or redshirt candidates.
Further complicating matters is it’s a short week for USC as they head up to Corvallis for a Friday night game on November 1.
At this point, getting out of this game as healthy as possible may be a win should even if the Trojans lose.
2. Grade the road
Running the ball well should always be a focal point of USC’s offense.
With limited receiving options, the Trojans will need to be able to establish and maintain a formidable rushing attack.
USC averages 190 rushing yards per game, and the Utah defense allows an average of 157 yards per game. Silas Redd has been impressive since his return from injury, but he appeared to be dinged up during the second half in South Bend.
Justin Davis is lost for the season and Tre Madden’s status for the game is uncertain, which may pave the way for Javorius “Buck” Allen and Ty Isaac to shine.
3. Protect Cody Kessler
It remains to be seen how often Cody Kessler will be asked to drop back and complete a pass.
When he does, the offensive line needs to improve on their performance against Notre Dame.
If they can recapture the mojo they had during the first half against the Irish, USC will be fine. Unfortunately, all that do-good was washed away by a second half filled with penalties and numerous occasions where they appeared overmatched.
The Utah defense has recorded 22 sacks, which is good for most in the Pac-12. 16 of those sacks have come from players on the Utah defensive line.
If USC is unable to protect Kessler, the Trojan offense could be in for a long game.
4. Turn up the pressure
You may feel as though you’ve seen this key before in previous renditions of Trojan keys to victory. You have.
But again, with the injuries USC is now dealing with, turning up the defensive pressure on Utah is perhaps more important than it’s been in the past.
Whether it be in the form of turnovers, pinning the Utes deep in their own territory and not letting them out, or blocking a punt, any assistance provided to the offense will be key.
5. Get creative
It may finally be time for a USC player to play on both sides of the ball. Should that happen, Su’a Cravens immediately comes to mind.
Cravens had a decorated high school career with significant contributions on both sides of the ball. He’s already shown the ability to be a playmaker on defense, which is something you don’t want to hinder.
Playing him sparingly on offense could allow Cravens to have his largest impact yet.
For a running back, Isaac, listed at 6’3″, is certainly on the taller end of the spectrum. This makes him the prime candidate to be used in a hybrid wide receiver/tight end role.
However, Isaac’s availability may also be in question. Following practice on Thursday, Ed Orgeron called Isaac and Marqise Lee “possible.”
USC really has nothing to lose at this point, and all options should be considered.