8:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: USC -13, Over/Under: 52
Pzc-12 Heavyweights meet tonight in Los Angeles, as the Utah Utes battle the Thirteenth-Ranked USC Trojans for supremacy of the South Division, from the confines of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Utah (4-1, 1-1 in Pac-12) was picked during the Preseason to finish second in the Pac-12 South, behind Southern Cal, but has been met with quite a bit of adversity of late, in the form of uncertainty at the game’s most important position, Quarterback. Two weeks ago, Kyle Wittingham saw Tyler Huntley (73.3%, 966 Yards, 8.1 Y/A, 6 TD, 2 INT, 56 CAR, 208 YDS, 3 TD) go down with a shoulder injury, that has relegated the versatile Sophomore to the sidelines ever since. Troy Williams (50.0%, 369 YDS, 6.4 Y/A, 1 TD, 2 INT) a former Senior Transfer from Washington, filled the void left by the Underclassman, helping the Utes stave off a furious comeback from Arizona en route to a hard-fought 30-24 victory. To his credit, Williams played well enough to earn the all-important W, completing 9-of-18 passes for 131 Yards, while rushing for a crucial One-Yard Touchdown early in the Third Quarter to stretch the lead to ten points. However, the following week was a very different story for the signal-caller, who struggled throughout the contest on 20-of-39 passing for 238 Yards, a Touchdown and a pair of Interceptions in a narrow 23-20 defeat at home to Stanford. As a whole, this was a game that the hosts could have easily won had it not been for the unfortunate mistakes; the teams were nearly identical offensively last Saturday Night, with the visiting side totaling only two more yards of Offense, but the Interceptions negated much of the progress that Williams and Co. were able to muster. They’ll need to shake off the poor performance sooner rather than later if they’re to storm in the Coliseum and knock off the Trojans, but then again, the veteran Quarterback does have some recent experience doing just that. When these teams met last year in Salt Lake City, Utah rallied back from a 24-10 deficit to steal a 31-27 victory over then-struggling Southern Cal. On that night, Williams was money throughout the affair, getting things started with a 10-Yard Touchdown Run in the first frame, before eventually accounting for the game’s final two scores, consecutive Touchdown Passes inside nine minutes to play. When it was all said and done, he had completed a healthy 21-of-34 passes for 270 Yards and two Touchdowns, while rushing for another seventeen Yards and a score on seven Carries. Wittingham’s charges torched the visitors for thirty First Downs and 456 Total yards of Offense, while the Defense stepped up when they had to, forcing three Turnovers, all of which were lost Fumbles. Given his team’s recent struggles at Quarterback, expect Wittingham to rely on his defense, which is vastly improved from last year’s version (18.4 Points per Game, 22nd Overall), thanks in no small part to one of the largest Defensive Fronts in the country. Defensive Tackles Filipo Mokofisi (10 TKL, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 SK, 1 INT, 2 PD) and Lowell Lotulelei (5 TKL) are collectively around 620 pounds, while Leki Fotu (9 TKL, 2.0 TFL) adds another 323 pounds to their mountainous Line. Seriously, you’d probably have better luck moving a Brinks Truck stuck in the mud. And it’s with that said that Utah is only permitting a shade over 100 Rushing Yards per Game, on 3.3 Yards per Carry, but don’t think that just because they’re huge doesn’t mean they can’t create some havoc in the trenches, for their eleven Sacks and Fourteen Turnovers can attest to their activity. However, they’re really going to have to reassert themselves tonight, for they have been pushed around far too much in the last two weeks, yielding 396 Rushing Yards to the likes of Arizona and Stanford, while allowing a scant 144 Yards in the three games prior. When they met a year ago, UC trampled them for a staggering 213 Yards and two Touchdowns on 6.5 Yards per Carry.
Meanwhile, this is the point of the season a year ago in which USC (5-1, 3-1 in Pac-12) really turned things around en route to a 10-3 campaign, culminating in an epic victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. While they’re not clawing their way back from a dreadful 1-3 start like they did in 2016, Clay Helton’s charges haven’t exactly set the world on fire, and that’s had a lot to do with them not meeting some unrealistically high expectations. You see, after the way they finished the previous term, MAJOR things were expected from the Trojans, who let’s face it, when they’re good, folks tend to put them on a pedestal. Kind of like when a girl is pretty, but once she becomes popular, she’s really @#$%^&* HOT all of a sudden. Of course, it doesn’t help having Sam Darnold (64.8%, 1,705 YDS, 8.1 Y/A, 12 TD, 9 INT) at Quarterback, who the National Media and NFL Scouts have been drooling over for the last nine months, with the Redshirt Sophomore proclaimed as not only the Preseason frontrunner for the Heisman, but the No. One Overall Pick in the NFL Draft. Now, it’s not like this kid hadn’t provided cause for excitement in Southern California, having just put together an excellent campaign in which he completed 67.2% of his Attempts for 3,086 Yards (8.4 Y/A), thirty-one Touchdowns and nine Interceptions, while rushing for another 250 Yards and two scores on sixty-two Carries. But like his predecessors before him (I.E. Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley), we all have tended to overrate these USC Quarterbacks in the past. Needless to say, maybe it’s the expectations that are getting to him, but while he certainly hasn’t played terribly in 2017, Darnold’s overall performance to this point can be described as simply uneven. The problem for this kid, and for USC as a team has been their carelessness with the football, which has been consistent in all six of their games. If you’re looking for a surefire way of keeping your opponent in the contest, then look no further than giving them the ball free of charge, which is something that this team has done far too often thus far, committing thirteen Turnovers in comparison to the fifteen Takeaways that they’re own Defense has come up with. Helton’s charges have committed at least two Turnovers in every game this season, including a season-high three in last weekend’s 38-10 victory over Oregon State. Granted, the floundering Beavers couldn’t manage to do much when in possession, but making these mistakes against better teams has (and will) continue to cost them. Darnold, for his troubles, has thrown at least one Interception in every game thus far, matching his total from the previous term with seven games to spare. In all fairness, he hasn’t been the recipient of solid protection of late, given the losses that USC has sustained along the Offensive Line, with three starters out for the foreseeable future with various ailments. It’s really quite remarkable that this team hasn’t lost more games than they have, though they’d have to thank their own Defense for that; the Trojans came away with four Turnovers (to negate the two they committed) in a thrilling 27-24 Overtime Victory over Texas, and six the following week to erase another pair of giveaways in a 30-20 win at California. When the Takeaway Well nearly dried up a week later at Washington State (One Turnover), they ultimately fell short in 30-27 upset. Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast has done a tremendous job with the talent on hand, particularly given the injuries to many contributors such as star Edge Rusher Porter Gustin (15 TKL, 3.0 TFL, 3.0 SK), who is out indefinitely with a torn Biceps; in addition to accumulating the most Takeaways in the Pac-12, USC has amassed eighteen Sacks thus far along with four Forced Fumbles and five recoveries.