USC Game Preview: Utah Utes Offense


Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIREGoing into the season, the Utes looked to have a running game that could rival anyone in the conference, anchored by a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate, John White IV. Through four games, Utah has left much to be desired, sitting dead last in the conference in total offense and averaging just 298 yards per game.

Injuries are the name of the game for Utah, as White IV has battled an ankle injury, Jordan Wynn left in Week 2 with a career-ending left shoulder injury and junior college transfer Marc Pouvave was lost for the season back in fall camp.

The poor health has left the Utes with a weak offensive line which has prevented the establishing of a run game. Against Arizona State on September 22, Utah averaged an abysmal 2.8 yards per carry, which was worsened by four sacks of quarterback Jon Hayes. Making matters worse, White IV had just 26 yards on 14 carries in Tempe.

At the helm of the offense is offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, the 25-year-old former Utah quarterback that led the Utes to a victory over Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Johnson’s had a ton of criticism since taking over as offensive coordinator following Norm Chow’s departure to Hawaii, with the main gripe being his play calling.

Johnson called just 16 passes against Arizona State, despite Hayes completing two-thirds of his passes. A conservative offense isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when you’re a team hoping to play a smashmouth brand of football. But with an offensive line that’s struggled and injuries in the backfield, it’s hard to get the offense going by pounding the run, especially if it’s not working.

The passing game revolves around the Utes’ best perimeter weapon, senior wide receiver DeVante Christopher. Christopher has just eight catches on the season and was shut out against Arizona State, a sign that the Utes have struggled to get their playmakers involved in the offense. Last season, Christopher had 42 catches to lead the team, 69 fewer than Robert Woods had to lead USC, showing the dramatic difference in offensive philosophy between the two schools.

Pitting the Utes against the USC defense, it would appear as though the Trojans have a tremendous advantage. Monte Kiffin’s defense sacked Cal’s Zach Maynard nine times and held the Bears to just 250 yards, one week removed from putting up 512 against Ohio State.

Consider that Cal’s 250 yards was only five more than Utah posted in a win at home against BYU. But even though Utah is more than content to win without doing much on offense, it’s hard to see them controlling the line of scrimmage enough to have more success than Cal, who didn’t manage to get in the endzone.

If you’re going to beat SC, you not only have to slow down the Trojans’ offense, you have to put points. For Utah, that’s an awfully tall task.

Projected startersWR Dres Anderson #6LT Sam Brenner #74LG Jeremiah Tofaeono #76C Tevita Stevens #54RG Vyncent Jones #64RT Jeremiah Poutasi #73TE David Rolf #47QB Jon Hays #9RB John White IV #15WR DeVante Christopher #10