The USC Trojans roll into Rice-Eccles Stadium on Oct. 25, and Utah will try to take down the Men of Troy for the first time since joining the Pac-12. Evan Budrovich of Conquest Chronicles on the SB Nation network helped us break down the matchup.
Last season, Utah dropped a 3-19 decision to an injury and scholarship reduction depleted USC squad led by interim head coach Ed Orgeron. That start a 6-game run for the Trojans, as well as continued what would be a five-game slide for the Utes. While the Utah offense struggled, the defense did hold USC's rushing attack to just three first downs, 30 net yards rushing, and just a one yard per carry average.
USC's passing game, though, was effective against the Utes secondary, registering 230 yards passing, 21 completions of 32 attempts, and 11 yards per completion. USC quarterback Cody Kessler was sacked five times, but still tossed a touchdown, which was more than enough.
Since joining the Pac-12, Utah has yet to beat USC, but the 2014 contest will be just the second in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"You have to take a trip to Salt Lake City seriously," Budrovich said. "They're going to be ready to play."
Unfortunately for Utah, USC's hero of the 2013 game returns for his senior season. Place kicker Andre Heidari booted four of five last season, including a 40-yarder, to put up 12 points and help put the game out of reach.
However, Budrovich says USC might have some concerns about their offensive line, especially the depth at the position.
"Right now, they're starting two freshmen on the line in practice," Budrovich revealed. "Outside of center and left tackle, it's a little unknown right now, and I think that's what scares USC a little bit. So what they've been trying to do is, for example at guard, there's this young freshman Toa Lobendahn. He came in early, as an early enrollee, and he's done a good job at guard, but he's young, a little inexperienced, and going up against Leonard Williams every day will make him a little tougher."
Utah's defensive line likes match-ups against inexperienced lineman, so that could be one they might target.
"Overall, the line is kind of a rotating shuffle of guys," Budrovich said. "USC has a new O-line coach, Tim Drevno from the 9ers, a very polished guy, of course, but he's got to get these young lineament to play the faster paced style."
After firing the universally well-liked Lane Kiffin (yes, that was sarcasm), USC athletic director Pat Hayden hired former Washington Huskies head coach (and former BYU quarterback) Steve Sarkisian. Budrovich said that Seven Win Sark isn't going to cut it at USC.
"Absolutely not," Budrovich joked. "Lane Kiffin had that 7-5 year, I think it was 2012, and things did not go well. If that happened again, there might be some rioting on campus."
On defense, Williams is the headliner and preseason all-everything, and he'll be joined by the talented Su'a Cravens, a player Utah tried to bring in.
Offensively, junior George Farmer (6-1, 220) will team with Nelson Agholor, a preseason All-Pac-12 first teamer and potential All America, to present teams with the proverbial deep threat. Sophomore Darreus Rogers returns to round out the wide receiver corps. Adoree Jackson is expected to play in the slot.
"[Rogers] is 6-foot-4 and can really make plays up; he's a really vertical player," Budrovich said. "He can be an impact player. Outside of that, you have to see what happens, because these kids are all pretty young, freshman and sophomores."
One of the greatest factors in this game, given the early cooling and rainy conditions of late, could be the weather. USC has to travel to what could be a cold, even snowy Salt Lake City in late October.
"I think playing in Utah," Budrovich said, "just looking at some of the games from last year, Stanford struggled up there, UCLA struggled a good period of time up there. Obviously, environment's going to be huge."
Whether it's skill, or weather, or just dumb luck, Utah needs a victory over the Trojans to jump start their reputation in the conference and continue the respect they earned from beating Stanford in 2013. Moreover, the Utes will need to get a victory in a game like this to make it to six wins and be bowl eligible, a tall order with the toughest schedule in the nation.