Four Downs: Utah

Consistent special teams and taking handcuffs off secondary among four keys to a USC victory in Pac-12 opener.

1. Tighten Up
Robert Woods is going to see double coverage. Nope, make that triple coverage.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham might just assign all 11 defenders to the remarkable sophomore receiver and dare the rest of USC's offense to make a play after Woods caught 17 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener.

So someone else will have to catch the ball. Marqise Lee was steady in his debut, but the young tight ends are equally likely candidates to pick up the slack for quarterback Matt Barkley.

Barkley went to redshirt freshmen Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer in key spots last week, only for each to come up with poorly timed drops. Grimble's bobble was especially egregious, wide open with a potential 46-yard catch-and-run touchdown in front of him.

If the running game can get going, bolstered by the return of Marc Tyler, Grimble and Telfer should have plenty of opportunities coming in the play action game.

2. Man Up
It's not a coincidence that the only takeaway forced by the USC defense, corner Torin Harris' late interception, came while in man-to-man coverage.

The Trojan defensive backs are physically gifted and prefer to play a more aggressive style of defense. It's no fun to allow a steady stream of short completions, even harder to create picks.

By playing man defense, USC can dial up the pressure and blitz, creating sacks and other negative plays. Monte Kiffin needs to trust that Harris, Nickell Robey and the safeties can recover if beaten one-on-one.

If you're going to get beat, get beat big. A nine-play, 83-yard touchdown drive surrendered ultimately has the same result as a one-play, 83-yard touchdown drive.

3. Be Special
Not to rehash a week's worth of debate over two-point plays, but the Trojan special teams were otherwise solid. USC's average drive started at the 33-yard line, Woods nearly broke a kickoff return for a touchdown and Robey was solid in his first action returning punts. Kyle Negrete placed all four of his punts inside the Minnesota 20.

That level of execution, especially in controlling field position, will be key against an aggressive Utah approach. The Utes were able to block a punt in their opener, successfully executed a fake punt and hit on field goals of 37 and 44 yards.

The only question left for special teams coordinator John Baxter is how freshman kicker Andre Heidari will perform when called upon. Heidari has shown plenty of leg, but has yet to face the pressure of kicking in a meaningful spot.

4. No White After Labor Day
The bright spot on offense in an otherwise lackluster 27-10 win over Montana State, Utah running back John White, a 5-foot-8, 186-pound transfer from Torrance (Calif.) and Harbor College, rushed for 150 yards on 19 carries and scored on a 10-yard run in his Utes debut.

USC's defense is better suited to handle a pro-style offense like Utah is now running, but held strong against the run-heavy spread attack of Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were held to 110 yards on 34 carries. Take away the long run of 25 yards by running back Duane Bennett and an 18-yard scamper by quarterback MarQueis Gray, the yards per carry average was a paltry 2.09.

That sort of domination on first and second down will allow the pass rush of Nick Perry, Devon Kennard and Wes Horton to come after Jordan Wynn and his surgically repaired shoulder. Worth noting his backup, junior college transfer Jon Hays, has never taken a collegiate snap.


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