Mama Said Knock Ute Out: Scondi’s USC vs. Utah 2017 preview

Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images
Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images /

After an easy victory over Oregon State, USC vs. Utah is all about the Trojans maintaining their spot atop the Pac-12 South against the Utes.

Can a team have a bad 28-point victory?

It may sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the consensus opinion from USC fans after their win against Oregon State.

There is some evidence to support this claim. There were great drives, but a lot of ineffectiveness in between. USC’s starting offense was only able to score touchdowns four times against arguably one of the worst teams in the country.

It may not have been a great victory for the Trojans, but this was Oregon State’s best game against a FBS opponent. Maybe in a couple of weeks they’ll be able to lose by less than 20.

Sam Darnold’s struggles continued and I can feel the fan base turning on him. He fumbled twice and threw one interception. Throws were rushed and he missed open opportunities. Darnold also threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, but that hurts the narrative that he’s the main reason for the offense’s problems.

It only took one touchdown run from backup Matt Fink for some fans to earnestly ask for Darnold to be benched.

Every fan’s favorite player is the backup quarterback. It certainly was mine when I rooted for the 49ers in the early 2000s. Tim Rattay could really light up the scoreboard in those preseason games.

Sam Darnold isn’t Max Browne. Benching him halfway through the season isn’t going to lead to another 13-game winning streak. Coach Helton can only go to that well once.

Darnold is very aware of his problems saying after the game, “I just have to stop turning the ball over.”

The issue isn’t that he’s turning over the ball. The issue is he doesn’t make up for them. Every game last year he had two to three mistakes. No one really remembers them because the next drive he’d immediately respond with a touchdown. That hasn’t happened a whole lot this year.

Against Washington State, Darnold wasn’t able to distribute the ball effectively.

After Oregon State, he was throwing the blame to anyone.

For drama’s sake, I’m going to interpret Darnold’s quotes as a jab at the coaching staff and their playcalling.

The playcalling against Oregon State was exponentially better, but the coaches are sending mixed signals about the offense’s identity. Helton and the rest of the staff have said they want a balanced attack on offense. Through three-quarters they called twice as many pass plays as runs despite Ronald Jones II having gained 69 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. The Texas Tesla had open roads, but the coaching attack left him in the garage.

USC says they want balance, but I think what they really mean is variety. Last Saturday, they ran the ball inside and outside. Receivers ran short routes and also took chances deep. The offense ran play-action and bootlegs to move the pocket as well as their normal drop-backs and run-pass option plays. USC went through every page of the playbook in order to effectively utilized their plethora of talent at running back, receiver, and tight end. Maybe balance means getting everyone the ball an equal amount of times.

Was the offense the only issue this game? Pretty much. Ajene Harris muffled a punt. He probably shouldn’t be back there anymore. How about Jack Jones? It’s halfway through the season and he could use a boost to that Heisman campaign of his. With an interception, forced fumble, and blocked field goal last Saturday, he sure has Trojans fans eating a lot of crow. I know I’ve had to have it for dinner a couple of times this week.

On defense, USC handled their business. Despite the mistakes from the offense, the defense held  Oregon State to only 10 points. Turnovers allowed two possessions inside USC territory. Bad drives allowed two more to begin at their 47-yard line. The Beavers were only able to score a field goal from those four opportunities.

Last week, I said this was a make-shift bye week. An opportunity for the team to rest and figure out their issues. While the win wasn’t as satisfying as some would hope, it was an overall injury-free game with a lot of rotation to some of second unit players. Brandon Pili and Juliano Falaniko saw their first action on defense. Matt Fink was able to get some valuable reps before he eventually takes over the offense. Next year not next week, of course.

Jake Olson got another snap. Any game he gets in is a victory in my book.

Every week, it seems like I start the article by voicing my complaints about USC fans displeasure in the team. But I’ve realized that is falling on deaf ears.

Maybe the issue with USC is your expectations.

Or maybe it’s the fear of Déjà vu.

The last time the Trojans started 5-1 they ended up finishing 7-6. Luckily, USC looks like it will avoid the mistakes that team made in 2012 since they don’t have a hashtag dedicated to the season. Unless the Trojans need help creating one. What about #Be14ieve?

The last time USC played Utah, mistakes from Sam Darnold and bad playcalling led to a heartbreaking loss in the final seconds.

Good thing USC got that type of game out of their system two weeks ago.

Utah Team Preview

Note: As always, Bill Connelly’s team preview of Utah was invaluable to my research. He gets the credit.


Utah is currently 4-1 on the season. The Utes came into last week with an undefeated record and a Top 25 ranking before losing to Stanford 23-20.

Losing to Stanford? Couldn’t be USC.

I guess the Trojans will have to wait another week before playing a ranked opponent.

College Gameday in South Bend? James Madison is awfully close to Notre Dame. They can probably go ahead and start preparing for next Saturday now.


Even if you don’t count the years before Utah joined the Pac-12, Kyle Whittingham is still the longest tenured coach in the conference. Since starting in 2005, Whittingham has led the Utes to a 105-51 record. Equally impressive is his 10-1 bowl record.

It’s a mystery why Whittingham hasn’t left for a more marquee program. His predecessor, Urban Meyer didn’t even wait for the team’s first BCS bowl game to bolt to Florida.

It wasn’t for lack of interest. I remember days when he was on the short list of candidates for the USC job. Right behind Sean Payton, Jon Gruden, and the ghost of Vince Lombardi.

He was offered the Tennessee job in 2010, but turned it down. I wonder if Volunteers fans still think about that as they try to scrap together the millions of dollars to buy out Butch Jones’ contract. It’s going to take a lot of money to get that block head out of Knoxville. He’s not going to leave in the middle of the night like a certain former coach.

It seems like Whittingham is staying in Salt Lake City for the long haul. Why shouldn’t he with the success he’s had there.

Unless he wants a challenge. Then I know a couple of people with a Corvallis area code that will be giving him a call.


After hiring Eastern Washington quarterbacks coach Troy Taylor as coordinator, Utah is changing their offensive identity this year. Traditionally a run-first unit, the Utes have integrated more air-raid concepts into the offense this season.

Every fan should know the air raid offense by now: a high-tempo passing offense that spreads out the defense. Basically every team in the Pac-12 with a decent quarterback runs something close to it.

The offense is led by Tyler Huntley, who has thrown for 966 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also moved the ball on the ground, running for 208 yards and three touchdowns. Before suffering a shoulder injury in Week 5 against Arizona, Huntley accounted for 66 percent of Utah’s offense.

Tyler Huntley’s shoulder injury sidelined the quarterback for their game against Stanford, and it’s uncertain if he will be able to play this Saturday. If Huntley is out for a second-straight week, the Utes have options at quarterback.

Hope is not lost for Utah’s offense as backup quarterback Troy Williams not only started every game last year, but he’s also a captain for the team. In his first start this season, Williams threw for 238 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions against Stanford. That performance may not have been enough to secure the starting spot this week as Whittingham has mentioned he may give Alabama transfer Cooper Batemen a shot.

Both backup quarterbacks have USC’s number.  Cooper Bateman is 1-0 against the USC, throwing for five yards against the Trojans in his brief stint at Alabama.

Troy Williams is the only quarterback to beat Sam Darnold last year.  Although, he did get a lot of help from Clay Helton’s playcalling that game.

In the backfield is running back Zack Moss, who has rushed for 344 yards and three touchdowns this season.  A perfect complimentary piece to a team that has become more pass orientated this year.

With three of the top four targets from last season gone, Utah’s receiving corps was due to regress this year. Thanks to a DUI charge, they now have one of the best receivers in the Pac-12.

In July, Oregon’s top wide receiver, Darren Carrington II, was dismissed from the team after being arrested for driving under the influence of intoxicants. He allegedly ran his car into a McDonald’s.

In hindsight, it could have been worse. He could have been a Rick and Morty fan. I bet any McDonald’s would rather have the hood of the car stuck into the side of their building than a mob of nerds screaming for Szechuan Sauce.

Two weeks after his dismissal, Carrington was enrolled at Utah. Hopefully he wasn’t in charge of his travel arrangements to Salt Lake City.

This isn’t Carrington’s first off-field issue. He has had a troubled past. In 2015, he had to sit out the College Football Playoff championship for allegedly failing a drug test. During that suspension, he received a citation for an open container and was also accused of breaking a student’s arm.

Usually when players make that many mistakes in college, they have to spend a year at a JUCO like East Mississippi Community College.

Instead of “Last Chance U”, Carrington went to “Let It Slide Utah”.

With 37 receptions for 584 yards and five touchdowns, Carrington is one of Utah’s most dangerous weapons. Good thing he isn’t a quarterback. I’d be cautious handing him the keys to anything, let alone your offense.

Utah lost a lot of their offensive line from last year, including first round left tackle Garrett Bolles. Despite losing 50 of last year’s 65 starts, the Utes are tied for third in the Pac-12 in fewest sacks allowed. Their line has also stayed healthy, playing the same starters in every game.


Utah’s defense is at the top of the Pac-12 in almost every statistical category.

Their defense has a simple strategy. Pin opponents deep in their territory, attack until the offense faces a third-and-long and then continue to attack until they make a mistake.

While they lost both ends and a tackle in the offseason, Utah’s defensive line was able to reload with four all-conference candidates in Lowell Lotulelei, Filipo Mokofisi, Kylie Fitts and Bradlee Anae. That’s a lot of disruption. It’s also a lot of vowels. There’s no way the equipment guys were able to make their jerseys on the first try.  I before E except after C. What about after the third L?

The linebacker corps is led by senior Sunia Tauteoli, who leads the team in tackles.

Is there a Polynesian island in the middle of Salt Lake City? These names have to be giving announcers heart attacks. ESPN may need to hire a linguistics major for the booth this Saturday.

The secondary was thought to be an issue for Utah’s defense during the offseason. Chase Hansen was the only returner of last year’s eight leading tacklers in the secondary.

Despite that, Utah is tied for third in the Pac-12 with 30 passes defended. Of those, 22 have come from their defensive backs. This may be partly due to last year’s signing class. The potential upside was always there, but the assumption was that it would take time to build chemistry.  Utah got lucky. Teams shouldn’t expect immediate results from their freshman. Hint, hint.

There are no gaping weakness on Utah’s defense. Their strength on every level allows them to be one of the best teams in the nation against defending the pass and stopping the run.

There will be no room for error against this team.

Special Teams

It’s strange for a college program to be this consistently good at special teams. Half the highlights in SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10” involve college kickers.

Utah’s special teams have been one of the best in the nation for the last three years.

Someone call ZZ Top, because the Utes have legs.

At kicker, Utah has former Utah Valley University soccer player Matt Gay. A savvy career move for Gay as he has a better chance of making the NFL than the World Cup. In his first season, he leads the nation in field goals made and total points among kickers.

At punter, Utah has 2016 Ray Guy Award winner and consensus All-American Mitch Wishnowsky.

Is it possible to be an All-American if you were born in Australia?

If only there was a television program that could have warned us about Australia’s talent for kicking.

Even when it comes to the college football, “The Simpsons” did it first.

Wishnowsky is continuing his success from last year as he leads the nation in net punting.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go

Arash Markazi didn’t provide enough context. It was also over 90 degrees at kickoff. Fans also had a Dodger playoff game they had to show up late to.

By Saturday morning, tickets were going for one dollar. Fans could buy a whole row for the price of a hot dog.

Unless you wanted to be a part of Gary Andersen’s last game at Oregon State, you didn’t miss anything.

It’s clearly obvious that no one went last week. There’s no excuse not to attend this Saturday.

The game is on primetime against a good opponent, and it’s the last home game for two weeks.

At the very least, go to the game to rob beat reporters of a few dozen retweets from their stadium shots.


This section is devoted to the long time tradition of creating scenarios in which USC can make the College Football Playoff.

I usually start this section when USC needs a little luck to fall into the Pac-12 Championship. Right now, they are at the top of the division. Win out and the Trojans will be one of the only competitive teams to play in Levi’s Stadium this year. Lose, and this section is going to start to look like Rust Cohle’s evidence board at the end of “True Detective”.


Last week’s game against Oregon State provided a blueprint for USC’s offense. Variety not balance. The Trojans don’t need to run an equal amount of run and pass plays, but they do need to distribute the ball evenly to every one of their weapons. Get the ball to Ronald Jones, Tyler Vaughns, Deontay Burnett and Tyler Petite. Rotate in some of the younger guys to confuse the defense.

This strategy doesn’t necessarily mean USC should veer away from an aspect of the offense if it’s working. If the Texas Tesla is motoring in the first quarter, than USC shouldn’t hesitate to add as many miles to his odometer. These are the games he needs a lot of carries.

On defense, the Trojans won’t be certain on who will be throwing the ball for Utah, so they need to focus on who will be catching it. USC’s secondary needs to contain Darren Carrington II. Make sure there’s a police checkpoint between him and the end zone.

USC’s defense have been consistent throughout the season. They will put the Trojans in a position to win the game.

This game will come down to one factor:

USC’s defense has allowed only three points on 12 drives after turnovers this season. Last year, Utah’s turnover luck was worth

Sam Darnold is going to continue to make mistakes. Throwing interceptions and fumbling the ball on scrambles is part of his game. It always has been. No one had a problem when Brett Favre did it. Well, maybe in his last season with the Vikings.

The key for Darnold is making up for his mishaps. If he doesn’t redeem himself after a turnover, the Trojans may be in a little trouble.

Unless Coach Helton decides to punt the ball in on Utah’s 37-yard line again, USC should be able to handle Utah.

Utah has never won in the Coliseum. That will continue this Saturday.

USC 34, Utah 21