Gameday Preview: USC Trojans at Utah Utes


Original Photos via Russ Isabella and Rich Barnes-US PRESSWIRE. Artwork by Michael Castillo, Reign of Troy.

USC Trojans at Utah Utes

Rice-Eccles Stadium | Salt Lake City, Utah6:00 PM Pacific | ESPNAll-time Series: USC 7-3Last meeting: USC 23, Utah 14 in 2011

So here we are, once again unsure about the status of Khaled Holmes, with the Trojans heading on the road for a tough game. This time, Lane Kiffin has spoken to the media at length about preparation, adamant that the Trojans will be ready for the Utes as they host the most anticipated home game in school history. The game was a big-time matchup going into the season, but both teams have under achieved, with USC dropping a game to Stanford and the Utes looking like they’re still working on fully acclimating themselves to the Pac-12. There’s still plenty of story-lines however, especially with the uncertainty of Holmes. He’s attended practiced, he’s run wind sprints and Abe Markowitz has played both guard and tackle to prepare.  With him, the Trojans are heavy favorites against Utah’s Star-studded defensive line, as they average 212 yards with him in the lineup. Without him, USC is looking right into the same situation going into the Stanford game, only with a louder crowd to compliment an eerily similar defense. We’ll find out what happens at 6pm, Pacific.

Gameday links

When Utah has the ball…

Going 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. For more on Utah’s offense, click here.

Without Jordan Wynn, this Utah offense is really no longer as menacing as they were a few weeks ago. Sure, they still have John White IV, but count on USC’s defense to smother him at the line and prevent the Utes from moving the ball at all. The defense needs to quickly go to work making new QB John Hays uncomfortable and unable to establish a rhythm. He has only thrown in a limited quantity in his two starts, so we don’t really know how familiar he and receiver DeVante Christopher are with each other just yet. The Trojan secondary needs to capitalize on this inexperience, forcing turnovers and making the big plays that have marked their play in the past few games. USC’s defense has been rock solid all season, and against a Utah offense that is still struggling to find a new identity, the Trojans will easily move them off the field quickly, and possibly with a few turnovers on the books.

Utah’s Projected Offensive Starters:WR 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

USC’s Projected Defensive StartersDE Wes Horton #96DT George Uko #90NT Antwaun Woods #98DE Morgan Breslin #91WLB Hayes Pullard #10MLB Lamar Dawson #55SLB Dion Bailey #18CB Nickell Robey #21SS Jawanza Starling #29FS T.J. McDonald #7CB Torin Harris #4

When USC has the ball…

The Trojans’ offensive line will need to keep DT Star Lotulelei from getting to Matt Barkley, as well as keeping their defense as a whole off-balanced. The Utes have the fourth-best defense in the conference, and the best way to prevent them from stifling USC’s offense is for USC to throw everything but the kitchen sink in their direction. Fortunately, USC has at least six veteran playmakers besides Barkley, and if the Lane Kiffin avoids predictable play-calling and actually shows us what he is working with, the Utes will not be able to settle into a rhythm to stop SC. Establishing a running game is critical, as the Utes really struggled to contain Marc Tyler on the ground last year. With two power runners like Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal, the Trojans should have no issues doing so once they get the ball rolling. Against Cal, USC’s passing game was abysmal, and it is of equal import that the Trojans worked those issues out and are ready to more than bubble screens all night. And it would be nice if Lane Kiffin finally started to incorporate tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble into the mix, as they will provide yet another layer of dimension for this Utah defense to contain.

With the Utes sporting the worst offense in the Pac-12, their defense is clearly the strength of their team.  They are ranked 4th in the conference in overall defense giving up 329.5 yards per game – they are also 4th in run defense (111.2 ypg) and 3rd in pass defense (218.2 ypg). The Utes are strongest upfront where they are led by Star Lotulelei. Lotulelei is the reigning Morris Trophy (best defensive linemen in the conference) winner and a first team Pac-12 selection.  He will most likely be a top 10 draft pick next spring. Lotulelei is joined upfront by Dave Kruger, Joe Kruger, and Nate Fakahafua.  Joe Kruger is questionable for this game due to a foot injury that forced him to miss the Arizona State game, but is expected to play.  If he is unable to go, expect to see strong side backer, Trevor Reilly, move into his position. The Utes are big and physical up and will present a formidable challenge for the offensive line of the Trojans.For more on Utah’s defense, click here.

USC’s Projected Offensive StartersWR Robert Woods #2TE Xavier Grimble #86 or Randall Telfer #82LT Aundrey Walker #70 or Max Tuerk #75LG Marcus Martin #66 or Abe Markowitz #50C Khaled Holmes #78 or Abe Markowitz #50RG John Martinez #59RT Kevin Graf #77WR Marqise Lee #9QB Matt Barkley #7RB Curtis McNeal #22 or Silas Redd #25FB Soma Vainuku #31

Utah’s Projected Defensive Starters:LE Nate Fakahafua #8DT Dave Kruger #44DT Star Lotulelei #92RE Joe Kruger #99OLB Jacoby Hale #40MLB LT Filiaga #42SLB Trevor Reilly #9CB Reggie Topps #28CB Ryan Lacy #26FS Eric Rowe #18SS Brian Blechen #4

Game Notes

  • The Trojans have scored in 185 straight games since being shutout 27-0 vs. Washington in 1997. The feat puts the Trojans just one-shy of a school record, with a chance to break the record against Washington next week, should they score tonight.
  • The last time USC played in the state of Utah, they beat BYU 42-10 on the way to a National Championship in 2004. The last time they played in Salt Lake City was in 1917, when the Trojans beat the Utes 51-0.
  • USC and Utah have met 10 times previously, with the Utes winning the first two before the Trojans won six straight. The last time the Utes beat the Trojans was in 2001 at the Las Vegas Bowl, in Pete Carroll’s first season.
  • The Utes are the only school in the state of Utah to ever beat the Trojans, and before the bowl victory in 2001, Utah’s only two wins came in 1915 and 1916.
  • USC has only had three players to ever come out of the state of Utah, including current starting guard John Martinez, recent fullback Stanley Havili and running back Joe Davis, who last played in 1942.
  • This is the Trojans’ second game of the season on artificial turf, and next week’s game at Washington will be the last. USC has lost just 16 times in the their last 49 outings on the fake stuff, with the last loss being at Oregon State in 2010.
  • Despite many considering Thursdays to be a bad omen for the Trojans, they’ve won 70 percent all-time on this day. In the modern era, the Trojans have played on Thursday just four times and are 3-1, including 2-0 under Lane Kiffin. The last loss was in 2008 at Oregon State, but you probably remembered that.