USC vs. Utah Gameday Preview: Matchups, Injuries, Lineups and Links


USC vs. Utah

Rice-Eccles Stadium | Salt Lake City, UT7:00 PM Pacific | FOX Sports 1All-time Series: USC leads 9-3Last meeting: USC 19, Utah 3 in 2013, at LA Coliseum

With the expansion of the conference to 12 teams in 2011, the expectation was that USC would be playing in the Pac-12 championship game every year as a representative of the south division.

That hasn’t exactly happened, partially due to the Trojans not being eligible in 2011. Now, in year four of the divisional format, they find themselves still looking for their first berth.

It’s still early and there’s plenty of time left in the season. Heck, the Trojans are technically in first place in the division, with a half game lead on Arizona State.

But ASU holds the Hail Mary tiebreaker and USC yet again does not control their own destiny, presenting the very real possibility that the expectations will continue to go unfulfilled should they not get help along the way.

And here’s Utah, the newest member of the Pac-12 and half of the reason why the south division exists. The Utes are 2-1 in the conference, giving them their first ever winning record in Pac-12 play, and total control their own fate.

Teams that expect themselves to win conference titles win these types of games when the pressure is on.

They boast a trio of road wins over Michigan, UCLA and Oregon State, making them a battle-tested team with eyes transfixed on the prize of representing the south division.

So in a surprising twist of historical fates, and despite the standings, it’s those very Utes who enter Saturday night’s showdown in Salt Lake City as the holders of the upper hand to go with their higher ranking in the AP poll.

Not the Trojans.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian has preached all season for his players to play each game as if it’s a championship, and those words could perhaps never be truer than tonight.

While a win wouldn’t miraculously eliminate Arizona State’s tiebreaker. Nor would it suddenly catapult the Trojans into the national title discussion.

But with winnable games against Washington State and Cal looming while the rest of the division’s contenders fight among themselves, a win at Rice-Eccles could allow USC to be on the proverbial doorstep of the south division title going into next month’s rivalry game with UCLA.

The way this team has played and with the depth of the conference, you can never look too far ahead with any sort of confidence. But a win certainly has to make you feel significantly better about the Trojans’ chances, while a loss buries them in the race.

Teams that expect themselves to win conference titles win these types of games when the pressure is on. Can the Trojans?

We’ll find out.

It’s USC. It’s Utah. It’s for all the momentum in the south, and perhaps the season.


In our USC vs. Utah preview podcast, Michael Castillo hosts and is joined by Reign of Troy editor Alicia de Artola to talk about the Trojans matchup with the Utes, in addition to predictions of the game could play out.

Gameday Links:

USC Injury Report:

  • Out for the season: Kenny Bigelow (knee), Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (academics), Jabari Ruffin (knee), Jordan Austin (hip), Chris Willson (foot), Christian Tober (collarbone), Tre Madden (toe), Lamar Dawson (knee)
  • Out: Josh Shaw (ankles/suspended), Jordan Simmons (knee), Ajene Harris (hamstring), Soma Vainuku (hamstring)
  • Questionable: George Farmer (hamstring), Steven Mitchell
  • Expected to play: Adoree’ Jackson (hip), Gerald Bowman (foot), Hayes Pullard (knee)

Bookmark our Injury Report and News Ticker to stay up to date on USC injury news.

Utah Injury Report:

  • The Utes do not publicize injuries.

When Utah has the ball…

On the surface, the Utah offense has all of the makings of a struggling enterprise. The Utes aren’t scoring a lot of points and haven’t been the most efficient team in the world, as they rank 92nd offensively in Football Outsiders‘ S&P+ rankings.

They’re without a proven No. 1 quarterback, as both Travis Wilson and Oklahoma-transfer Kendall Thompson have played this season without either emerging as an obvious long term solution.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

That uncertainty in the passing game has the Utes as a heavy run-first team. Utah is opting to pass just 31.1 percent of the time when not in long-yardage situations, putting all of their eggs in the basket of junior college transfer running back Devontae Booker.

And luckily for the Utes, Booker has suddenly proven himself to be one of the top backs in the Pac-12.

He’s averaged 188 yards per game over his last three outings, and ran for 229 yards in an overtime win over Oregon State last week in Corvallis.

A strong, physical runner with combo-back abilities, Booker is the first true featured back that the Trojans will face this season. That could be problematic for USC, given they gave up 452 yards to the only heavy run-first team they faced –Boston College– and are going to be at altitude for the only time season.

Though since the BC game in Week 3, the Trojans have been stout against the run.

They’ve held Arizona State and Arizona to 13 percent and 34 percent of their rushing averages against their other teams, respectively.

Part of the reason USC has been so effective at stopping the run lately is defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s game planning that has the Trojans selling out to stop the run, and dropping back in deep safety against the pass.

It’s reduced rushing yards against, and while has padded opponents’ passing yardage, outside of the ASU game, has drastically minimized big plays.

That could be the plan for the Trojans tonight, in an attempt to force Wilson to throw the ball down field and prove they can beat USC through the air. Despite being the only starting quarterback in college football without an interception this season, Wilson threw 16 picks a year ago and is susceptible to making mistakes.

For more on how Utah’s offense matches up against the USC defense including a side-by-side statistical breakdown of the matchup, click here.

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

When USC has the ball…

Utah has perhaps the best front seven in the Pac-12 South, if not the entire conference. They lead the world in sacks and pose a serious threat to both the Trojans’ vaunted run game and the recently successful passing game, should they be able to establish pressure on quarterback Cody Kessler.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Last month against Boston College, USC’s inexperienced offensive line had trouble containing the blitz on passing downs and uncreative play calling on early downs continually put the Trojans in passing situations that baited the BC blitz.

That cannot happen against Utah if Troy wants to leave with a win. The Utes are more than happy to rush Kessler, led by one of the nation’s most prolific pass rushers in Nate Orchard. The senior defensive lineman in second in the nation in sacks with 10.5 through six games, trailing only Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha.

USC will need to find a way to establish the running game with Buck Allen. The Trojan is tops in the conference in rushing and has topped the 100-yard mark in yards from scrimmage in 10 consecutive games dating back to last season.

Look for Allen to be a significant part of the passing game, as quick short passes might be a way for Kessler to neutralize the blitz early in the game.

The run-pass option play has been a staple of the Trojans’ offense early on this season, and while it has faced criticism for its east-west movement, it allows the quarterback to get the ball out as quick as possible to avoid sacks.

Kessler is coming off of a seven touchdown performance against Colorado and has all of the confidence in the world, which can be dangerous for Utah, considering how protective of the football as he is.

That said, Kessler hasn’t faced a rush quite like that of the Utes and if there’s a situation where he finds himself rattled, a loud night in a hostile blackout environment at Utah is quite the test.

For more on how USC’s offense matches up against the Utah defense including a side-by-side statistical breakdown of the matchup, click here.

Projected Starting Lineups

USC Offense:WR #9 JuJu SmithWR #15 Nelson AgholorTE #82 Randall TelferRT #73 Zach BannerRG 60 Viane TalamaivaoC #75 Max TuerkLG #50 Toa LobendahnLT #72 Chad WheelerWR #1 Darreus RogersQB #6 Cody KesslerFB #38 Jahleel PinnerTB #37 Javorius Allen

Utah Defense:LE #49 Hunter DimickDT #93 Lowell LotuleleiNT #45 Filipo MokofisiRE #8 Nate OrchardSLB #51 Jason FanaikaMLB #13 Gionni PaulROVER #41 Jared NorrisCB #18 Eric RoweCB #15 Dominique HatfieldNICKEL #12 Justin ThomasFS #7 Andre GodfreySS #4 Brian Blechen

Who will win tonight's game between USC and Utah?

View Results

More from Reign of Troy