Game Preview: Utah at USC

The Utes head to Los Angeles looking to bounce back after last week's disappointing performance

Facts and Factors
Utah (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) plays USC (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) in Los Angeles on Saturday. Kickoff is 1:00 p.m. PT in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks. Radio is ESPN700 AM. Satellite radio is Sirius 134/XM 192.

The Utes are off to a 1-3 Pac-12 start this year after 0-4 beginnings in their first two seasons. Utah's win was against then No. 5 Stanford on Oct. 12 in Salt Lake City. Utah is 0-1 in Pac-12 road games, losing at Arizona last week.

Utah is playing back-to-back road games for the first time this season.

Utah and USC have played two common opponents. Utah split against Utah State (won 30-26) and Arizona (lost 35-14), while USC beat both USU (17-14) and Arizona (38-31).

Utah's debut as a Pac-12 member was against USC in the Coliseum in 2011, a 23-14 loss. Trailing 17-14 with 11 seconds left in regulation, Utah had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Coleman Petersen's 41-yard field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown.

Utah is 3-8 all-time against USC and just one of those wins—in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl—has come since 1916.

USC has claimed 11 national championships, while Utah's best national finish was No. 2 (A.P.) in 2008. The Utes finished No. 4 in the A.P. poll in 2004.

Ute linebacker Jared Norris was a high school teammate of USC quarterback Cody Kessler at Centennial High School in Bakersfield, Calif. Both are now sophomore starters. Norris is one of 33 Californians on Utah's roster.

When Utah Has the Ball
Utah will go as Travis Wilson and the offensive line go. When they're good, they produce and the team wins. When they're bad (see Arizona) the Utes struggle to move the ball with much consistency. Wilson will likely play despite the hand injury, but the leash is likely short this week. If he's struggling to grip the ball and throw it with any sort of velocity and/or accuracy, Adam Schulz will be ready to go. The problem is that Utah can't beat USC with Adam Schulz. It needs Wilson to play the entire game and be efficient or this one is over.

Utah's offensive line can't be as bad as it was last week. It's not physically possible. Unfortunately, they're facing a very good defense, that while depleted by injuries, is still a very talented and skilled unit.

Who will it be at running back this week for Utah? It's anyone's guess as Utah continues to go back by committee, although James Poole is getting more carries than the other ball carriers. Against a stout USC D, Kelvin York may be the way to go, using his combination of size and speed, along with a chip on his shoulder after the Trojans dropped him as a commit back in 2011.

It's the walking wounded for USC. Trying to guess who's going to play and who isn't for USC is a fruitless effort, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Morgan Breslin is out. Lamar Dawson is out. Devon Kennard will play, as will Leonard Williams and George Uko. Those are some pretty good players.

USC has some ballhawks in the secondary, most notably true freshman safety Sua Cravens, who has two picks on the season. He'll be all over the field, making a ton of plays. If you thought Myles Jack at UCLA was the best true freshman Utah faced this season, give Cravens a look. He might be better.

WIlson needs to be careful against these DBs. They'll pick off passes if he's not accurate. There's no reason to think that Dres Anderson won't be targeted 10 times on Saturday, and USC knows that. If Wilson can't find other guys to throw it to, he'll be throwing into double coverage at Dres for much of the game.

USC may be beat up, but this defense is still tremendous. Utah will have their work cut out for them, and Dennis Erickson will need to call a very good game.
Edge: USC

When USC Has the Ball
Utah should be a bit concerned about Cody Kessler. The sophomore quarterback has been somewhat underwhelming so far this season, but is still a talented dual-threat guy that can make plays in a variety of ways. Despite not running much this season, Kessler does have the wheels to tuck it and run, something Utah has struggled with this season. In the passing game, he'll get a big boost as last year's Belitnikoff Award winner, Marquise Lee, should return from injury. Lee lit up the Utes last season in Rice-Eccles, and will go down as one of the greatest collegiate receivers ever to play. Opposite Lee is Nelson Agholor, also one of the top receivers in the conference. Neither is big, but they can both fly. Utah struggled shutting down the last receiver of this quality that they faced in Oregon State's Brandin Cooks. Who will get Lee and who will get Agholor? Will either play? If not, it's a big break for the Utes.

Despite the weapons at wide receiver, USC is going to try to run the ball. Tre Madden and Silas Redd are a solid one-two punch that are both big backs that will pound you up the middle. If Utah can hold these two combined under 150 yards, it will be a success.

Overall though, USC hasn't shown an ability to be consistent with their offense. Each week has been hit or miss, not because defenses have been stellar, but because play calling has been stale and the Trojans haven't been executing. If the Utah shows multiple formations and sends pressure early and often, they can get USC off of their game, and send them into an offensive spiral that they haven't shown the ability to get out of once they start down this path.
Edge: Utah

Utah Will Win If...
Gorringe- Travis can grip the ball and offensive line can keep him upright.
Karren- Travis has zero interceptions and the Utah defense can hold USC under 20 points.
Olson- Travis is healthy and Utah doesn't come out slow. If the Utes lead at halftime, they win.
Swinney- Marquise Lee is slowed by injury, the Cody Kessler that shows up is the bad Cody Kessler, and Travis Wilson turns it over no more than one time.

Gorringe- Utah 20 USC 17
Karren- USC 30 Utah 27
Olson- USC 31 USC 21
Swinney- USC 27 Utah 20

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