|Date of game: 10/26/2013
Utah (4-3) at USC (4-3) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: L.A. Memorial Coliseum (93,607) -- Los Angeles, California. Television: Pac-12 Network. Home Record: Utah 3-2, USC 3-1. Away Record: Utah 1-1, USC 1-2. Neutral Record: Utah 0-0, USC 0-0. Conference Record: Utah 1-2, USC 1-2. Series Record: USC leads, 8-3.
GAME NOTES: Both the Utah Utes and the USC Trojans will be gunning for bounce- back victories this Saturday when they square off in a Pac-12 brawl at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
A week ago at this time Utah was riding high off a stunning 27-21 upset of then No. 5 Stanford. After last weekend the Utes are a bit more grounded, entering this contest off a 35-24 defeat at Arizona. The loss was the second in three tries against conference foes and has the Utes at 1-1 on the road this season and 4-3 overall.
USC is sporting an identical 4-3 overall record as well as a 1-2 mark against the conference. However the Trojans were outside of league play last week as they took a trip to South Bend for a rivalry clash with Notre Dame. The Trojans came out on the short end of the contest, 14-10, and are now 1-1 under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who took over for the fired Lane Kiffin.
This is the third time these teams are meeting since Utah joined the Pac-12. USC has taken the first two matchups, including a 38-28 triumph last season, and now leads the all-time series by an 8-3 margin.
Against Arizona, Utah posted its worst offensive game of the season, with a campaign-low 329 yards. On the whole the Utes have had much more punch offensively, scoring 35.1 points and picking up 449.3 yards of total offense per game.
The normally dynamic Travis Wilson was not at his normal standard of play against the Wildcats. He threw a pair of interceptions on 3-of-9 passing before leaving the game in the first half with a hand injury. In his place Adam Schulz threw for 142 yards and a touchdown on 12-of-23 passing. Wilson has a solid track record this season (122 of-202, 1,655 yards, 14 total TDs, 12 INTs) but is listed as questionable for Saturday's game.
Leading rusher Bubba Poole also struggled against Arizona. Poole, who has a team-high 476 yards on the season, managed just 35 yards. Wilson's loss will also be felt on the ground as he has a team-high five rushing touchdowns while averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Dres Anderson (31 receptions, 621 yards, five TDs) is the primary target downfield. Anderson leads the Utes in receptions, yards and touchdowns, while leading the entire conference in yards per reception (20.0). Sean Fitzgerald (23 receptions, 365 yards, four TDs) is a dependable receiver as well.
Utah is a middle of the road defensive squad in the Pac-12, ranking seventh in the league in scoring (26.7 ppg) and ninth in total defense (412.4 ypg). There is still plenty of talent on the roster, especially at linebacker where Trevor Reilly (58 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks) has been playing at a high level.
Normally one of the more potent offensive squads in the conference, USC has been far from that this season. The Trojans are better than only Colorado in total offense (396.9 ypg), scoring a modest 25.4 points per game.
The struggles have been marked by a downfall in the normally strong passing game. Cody Kessler has not looked like the next in a long line of successful Trojan quarterbacks as he has thrown for only 1,330 yards and eight scores, to five interceptions early on. Poor protection hasn't helped matters as the Trojan signal-caller has been dragged down behind the line 12 times.
However, Kessler's issues are more understandable for a first-year starter. Marqise Lee's drop from Biletnikoff Winner has been miserable to watch. Lee does lead the team in receptions but for only 403 yards and a single touchdown. Nelson Agholor (24 receptions, 442 yards, two TDs) has been more effective as a pass-catching threat.
The return of Silas Redd has been a nice improvement for the Trojans. Redd missed the first five games of the season but has come back to post 192 yards and 30 carries in the last two weeks. Redd has been needed even more with Tre Madden (611 yards, three TDs) out last week and questionable for this matchup with a hamstring injury.
USC has been able to keep itself from falling to the absolute bottom of the standings thanks to strong defense. In fact the Trojans lead the league in total defense (333.9 ypg), while behind only Oregon in points allowed (19.2 ppg). Leonard Williams (46 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks) has helped the Trojans, who are especially skilled up front.
Clearly Utah is a team that can compete with anyone in this league. However, that is really only true with Wilson under center. With his status uncertain the prospects for the Utes are not good, especially against a team like USC that excels at creating pressure.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 27, Utah 20Game Date and Time
Saturday, October 26, 4 p.m. (et)