Trojans Face Big Test in Utah


Former USC Quarterback (1986-1990) Shane Foley previews the Trojans’ (5-2, 4-1) big road game in Utah against the Utes (5-1, 2-1).


The #20 Trojans get back on the road on Saturday night to take on #19 Utah and Rice-Eccles Stadium is expected to be sold out for the 29th consecutive time. USC holds a 9-3 overall record against Utah dating back to 1915 which was a 20-13 win for Utah. The Utes have not beaten USC since they moved to the PAC-12 but Head Coach Kyle Wittingham has built a unit that is predicated on defense and toughness.

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Utah had a couple of extra days to prepare since they beat Oregon State in Corvallis last Thursday in double overtime. The Utes have the PAC-12’s second best run defense only giving up 114.2 yards per game. Utah has only given up three rushing touchdowns on the season and they give up a paltry 2.8 yards per carry which ranks 6th in the country.

They not only stuff the run, they also have dominated against the pass. Their 33 sacks lead the nation and they toyed with UCLA at the Rose Bowl with a jaw-dropping 10 sacks on Brett Hundley. They also lead the country in tackles for loss and they also rank in the top 20 in turnover margin.

The Utes are led by 6-4, 255 lb. defensive end Nate Orchard who is ranked 2nd in the country with 10 ½ sacks on the season and also in tackles for loss. 6-3, 270 lb. DE Hunter Dimick also has six sacks. On offense, Utah is led by junior running back Devontae Booker who has rushed for 742 yards and a 6.2 average with seven touchdowns and he rumbled for 229 yards in their win over the Beavers.

Junior quarterback Travis Wilson will get the start for the Utes and he has completed 56.8% of his passes for seven touchdowns on the season with no interceptions. Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson has also played this season and he was effective against UCLA but he struggled in the first half against Oregon State last week and was replaced by Wilson. Utah ranks 2nd to last in the conference in passing 191.8 yards per game. They also have a dangerous return man in wide receiver Kaelin Clay who is fourth in the nation in punt returns and he has returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns this year.

Oct 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6) throws a pass under pressure from Colorado Buffaloes defensive end Derek McCartney (95) at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Trojans have a strong rushing attack with five games of 200-plus yards and Buck Allen is the PAC-12’s leading rusher and all-purpose yardage leader. He is the only player in the country with over 900 yards rushing and at least 250 yards receiving. Cody Kessler is coming off a career day and he has completed 69.5% of his passes on the season and he has multiple weapons at wide receiver led by Nelson Agholor.

The Trojan defense is led by All-American DE Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard, and hybrid linebacker/safety Su’a Cravens. The Trojans lead the conference with nine interceptions.

This game will be won in the trenches. Utah has been dominant between the tackles much of the season and the Trojan offensive line will face its biggest challenge. The Trojans have grown a lot since their embarrassing meltdown on both sides of the ball at Boston College. USC is 5-2 and 4-1 in conference but their losses have been ugly with 452 yards given up on the ground to Boston College and 510 yards passing to ASU. The offense did not help with ball control three and outs that signaled “let’s hope for the best.”

Oct 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive end Leonard Williams (94) against the Colorado Buffaloes at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC has responded with two straight wins but Utah will be a different animal. This will be a physical football game and the Trojans will need to play their best game. The stakes are high for both teams with the winner staying on track for a potential PAC-12 title. Coach Sarkisian had a tough time getting over the hump at Washington going 34-29 over five seasons even though he inherited on 0-12 football team.

This game offers USC and its head coach a huge opportunity to take the next steps in getting back the program back to respectability and competing on a national stage. It is time for the Trojans to play a physical football game against a tough opponent. To be the best, you have to beat strong opponents along the way. There are no excuses or shortcuts. It is time to go to war in the trenches, to attack to the final whistle, to take what a defense gives you and to always Fight On!