The No. 20 USC Trojans head to Salt Lake City this weekend to face the No. 19 Utah Utes in a pivotal Pac-12 South match up which will test the resolve of both teams challenging for the conference title.
Like USC, the Utes have leaned on a powerful rushing attack in 2014, led by Devontae Booker, while the passing attack has taken a back seat.
That is reflected in their conference ranking as Utah sits second from the top in rushing offense behind only USC, but second from the bottom in passing offense ahead of only Washington.
On the flipside, the Trojans’ defense has largely settled in the middle of the pack after a topsy-turvy first half of the season which featured a drubbing to Boston College and a defensive meltdown late against ASU.
Dual Quarterback Threat
There are many dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, but not so many dual quarterback threats.
That’s what Utah employs with Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson, who have both appeared in every game for the Utes.
Oct 16, 2014; Corvallis, OR, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson (1) runs the ball against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Susan Ragan-USA TODAY Sports
Wilson is the establish starter who has carried that mantle in all but one game, while Thompson is the transfer from Oklahoma who offers a change of pace.
Despite throwing 16 interceptions in just nine appearances last season, Wilson is one of the few quarterbacks left who have yet to throw an interception. He started the season with seven touchdowns in the first three games, but has seen his involvement taper off since the Utes’ loss to Washington State.
Instead, it’s been Thompson taking the lead in the last two games, including his lone start against UCLA.
Thompson is a true dual-threat and he helped the Utes upset the Bruins with that skill-set, throwing for a touchdown and running for 83 yards on 19 carries.
Wilson is set to start for Utah Saturday but expect to see both heavily involved in the action.
Pac-12’s (Second) Best
Booker, the 5-11, 203-pound junior, who heads the Ute rushing attack is second in rushing in the Pac-12 only to USC’s Buck Allen.
With 742 yards on the ground and an average of 6.18 yards per carry, the most impressive thing about Booker’s production this year is that he’s racked up those numbers in such a short period. He’s only been the starter for two games.
In his three most recent games with full-time carries, Booker has averaged 187.7 yards.
Not Another Boston College
For USC, the trick is to avoid another outing like Boston College, which featured an all-out rushing attack with a dynamic running quarterback pulling the strings.
The Trojans gave up 452 yards to the Eagles, but they have been stout in rush defense since, forcing ASU and Arizona into one-dimensional offenses by limiting them to 31 and 77 yards on the ground.
In both of those games the quarterbacks, who are both capable of taking off on the run, were contained for zero or negative yardage on the day.
What the stats say…
- In terms of efficiency, the Utah offense has been notably unimpressive this season. Ranked 100th in total efficiency, the Utes are particularly poor when it comes to avoiding three-and-outs. Nearly 40% of all their drives end without achieving at least one first down.
- Though Utah ranks in the top half of the conference in scoring offense, the Utes flatter to deceive in that category. Removing blowouts over Idaho State and Fresno State from the equation, Utah’s scoring average drops to 28 points per game.
- With touchdown efficiency in the red zone at 60%, Utah is third from the bottom in the conference. Coincidentally that is also where they stand in third down conversion percentage with 39%.
Projected Starting Lineups
Utah Offense:LT #73 Jeremiah PoutasiLG #59 Junior SaltC #60 Siaosi AionoRG #54 Isaac AsiataRT #68 J.J. DielmanTE #80 Westlee TongaQB #7 Travis WilsonRB #23 Devontae BookerWR #6 Dres AndersonWR #8 Kaelin ClayWR #2 Kenneth Scott
USC Defense:DT #90 Claude Pelon OR #52 Delvon SimmonsNT #99 Antwaun WoodsDE #94 Leonard WilliamsRE #58 J.R. Tavai OR #47 Scott FelixSOLB #21 Su’a CravensMLB #10 Hayes PullardWLB #56 Anthony SaraoCB #13 Kevon SeymourFS #27 Gerald Bowman OR #22 Leon McQuay IIISS #22 Leon McQuay III OR #24 John PlattenburgCB #4 Chris Hawkins OR #2 Adoree’ Jackson