The Pac-12 south title race sits in the balance today with the No. 20 USC Trojans set to battle the No. 19 Utah Utes in Salt Lake City.
The Trojans may not hold complete control over their destiny in the division but the directive remains clear — win or go home. A loss to the Utes would make a title run unlikely, while a win would keep USC in the hunt and atop the standings in the south.
For Utah, a difficult loss to Washington State has them behind 8-ball, but they have worked themselves into a top 20 ranking and remain very much in the mix for the conference title. However, they too face the prospect of dropping out of contention with a loss to the Trojans.
Here’s how the Reign Of Troy staff predicts the winds will blow:
There’s plenty of storylines here to read into.
Cody Kessler looks to be turning a corner while Utah has a pair of quarterbacks that haven’t separated themselves. But the Utes have arguably the second best running back in the Pac-12 in Devontae Booker, and face a USC front seven that gave up 452 yards to a vaguely similar Boston College power run game.
Even though the defense has been stout against the run since, they’ve have to sell out to stop the run to do so, and Utah has enough physicality to possibly withstand that.
That said, the game is probably decided on the other side of the ball. If USC’s offensive line can create holes for Allen and give Kessler time, then the Trojans should be in a good spot. But Utah leads the world in sacks and we’ve how inept the Trojans’ offense can look when a front seven is manhandling them to stifle the run and get after Kessler.
In the end, there’s too many things that could wind up going against USC, despite the metrics giving a clear edge, at least offense vs. offense. We’ve yet to see the Trojans play a full 60 minutes, and they’ll need to do that against the Utes. Factor in how gassed the Trojans have been at the end of games and that Rice-Eccles Stadium 4,657 feet above sea level, and Utah has too many subtle advantages that can take precedence over USC’s edge in talent.
Much like other teams around the nation, this game features two teams that used to be known for their brutal defenses and are now known for their highflying offenses.
The Trojans will need to limit mistakes and eliminate turnovers if they hope to be in Utah on the road. Shutting down Devontae Booker will be key to their success. If they can shut down the run game and force Utah into a game they don’t want to play, the Trojans can win this one.
Kessler will need to continue playing mistake-free football and other Trojans will have to aid in that effort. Justin Davis has had issues hanging onto the football and Utah will bring the wood. Limiting mistakes will be a key factor in who wins this game.
Alicia de Artola:
There are two big questions for USC in this game.
1) Can the defense contain Devontae Booker?
2) Can the offensive line win the battle up front?
The answers to those questions will surely decide the evening.
On the plus side, the Trojan defense has tightened up in terms of stopping the run and they’ve done spectacularly well against good running attacks like those of Arizona and Arizona State.
On the negative side, USC’s offensive line is still a work in progress and while they survived a patchwork Stanford defensive front, Utah’s is a whole different animal.
The toughest thing to gauge about this match up is the home crowd factor. Last time in Salt Lake City the raucous crowd played a part in the offensive line play and while the Trojans came away with a victory, it was never an easy one.
Ultimately I think USC’s defense will win the day and though the offensive line will lose plenty of battles, at least one of the Trojans playmakers will produce enough of a spark to secure a low-scoring, close victory.
Who do you think will win tonight’s USC vs. Utah game? Vote in the poll below, then leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Who will win tonight's game between USC and Utah?