USC Football: Utah Game Preview and Analysis
The Trojans' game at the Coliseum against the Utah Utes will be the inaugural Pac-12 conference matchup, and both schools have a lot to prove going forward.
USC is coming off a puzzling 19-17 victory of Minnesota that saw a chokehold on the Golden Gophers disappear after halftime. Meanwhile, Utah used its matchup against Montana State as a de facto preseason game, coasting to a nondescript 27-10 win.
What to look for:
A familiar face on the opposing sideline will make things a little more interesting for the Trojans.
Utah hopes that a good first game in Southern California will establish an even bigger recruiting base in the area, where they have already had a lot of success in finding key players.
This game will also be critical for USC's confidence going forward. The Trojans were supposed to beat Minnesota, and most people assumed that it would be by a lot more. It's hard to be confident after a game that so many deemed disappointing.
But Utah is a different story. They have been one of the best programs in the country for the past few years, and a win over their new conference rivals would be a huge lift for the Utes as they head towards the heart of the Pac-12 schedule.
Now, on to the matchups.
When USC is on offense:
Other than Oregon's demise at the hands of the SEC, the story of the conference last week was the seemingly telepathic connection that Matt Barkley and Robert Woods shared against the Gophers.
However, the Utes' secondary features four new starters, so Barkley should be able to take advantage of other matchups. And Woods (pictured right) may very well be too good to cover, regardless of who they throw at him.
But other than those Woods and Barkley, there were few standout performances on the Trojans' offense.
The running backs were only mildly effective at best, and Utah features a much larger, more physical group of defensive linemen than Minnesota. The return of RB Marc Tyler from his TMZ-induced suspension should help in short-yardage situations at the very least. And it will be interesting to see if RB Dillon Baxter gets more carries this week after his meeting with Kiffin.
Much of the burden for the Trojans' running game falls on the embattled offensive line, which has yet to really identify its best group. There is still hope that Abe Markowitz can make it back in time to start at left guard, but that's still up in the air.
Still, USC's line allowed no sacks, or much pressure at all on Barkley, so they have that going for them.
Utah LB Brian Blechen was incredibly effective last week against Montana State. Blechen, a converted safety from Moorpark, Calif., collected seven tackles and picked off two passes. He's clearly capable in pass coverage, something to keep in mind as he drops back to cover backs and tight ends.
The rest of Utah's performance on D was solid, allowing only 258 yards, with just 75 yards coming on the ground.
When Utah is on offense:
The 'SC defensive line was mostly effective in keeping Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray contained, and should have an easier time with the less mobile Jordan Wynn. The three-headed monster of Nick Perry, Wes Horton and Devon Kennard should enjoy this assignment. But the front seven will have to be strong at the point of attack to slow down the Utes' effective ground game.
A huge development for the Trojans was the play of LB Chris Galippo, who played every defensive snap. It may be only a one-game sample, but he appears to be the same Chris Galippo that had many Trojan fans thinking All-American during the first half of the 2009 season.
Penalties started piling up for the Trojans in the second half after playing nearly mistake-free in the first half. OG John Martinez's late hit after a big gain by TE Randall Telfer was especially costly, and is exactly the kind of thing the Trojans need to avoid this week.
The star of the offensive show was Torrance native RB John White IV. White rushed for 150 yards and found the end zone twice, averaging almost eight yards per carry. The junior college transfer is small at 5-feet-8-inches, but that will make him hard to locate behind Utah's offensive line.
Utah should receive a big boost from the return of left tackle John Cullen. Cullen sat out last week because of a concussion, but should be ready to go Saturday. He has the unenviable task of matching up against USC's trio of defensive ends.
The Utes' passing attack was mostly non-existent, as Jordan Wynn only threw for 101 yards on 23 attempts. He had shoulder surgery in the offseason, and it's possible he is still regaining his arm strength.
But the Utes didn't really need much out of Wynn anyway, as the running game and defense took care of business. Expect Chow to add a few more wrinkles that the Trojans didn't see in Utah's week-one game tape.
This game will be another close one, as the Trojans don't appear quite ready to take off, and the Utes are a tough, well-coached team under Kyle Whittingham, regardless of their opponent.
But Barkley's receivers won't have as big a case of the dropsies this week, and the play-calling will expand from more than just bubble screens. And once USC gains the lead, Wynn is going to be running for his life from the pass rush.
Expect USC to win 27-17, in what should be a competitive game, but not a nailbiter.
It's very early in the season, but the Trojans can make a big statement on Saturday by reminding the new guys that USC still rules the Pac-12.
Reach Andrew Parrone by email.
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