Saturday night could be monumental for Kyle Whittingham and the Utes. No. 19-ranked Utah will host No. 20-ranked USC in a Pac-12 South division showdown with potential national playoff implications.
There are so many things that will make this game exciting. It's Utah's annual "Blackout." The Utes are off to their best start since joining the Pac-12, and a win this weekend will push Utah even further into the national spotlight. There is a buzz around this program right now, and Rice-Eccles Stadium is going to be electric at kickoff.
Here are some key match-ups to look for during the game:
The "Throw Game" and the O-line:
Utah is currently 101st (ESPN.com) in passing yards. Yup, 101st. This seems ridiculous with weapons with like senior wide receiver Dres Anderson, punt return/kick return sensation and wide receiver Kaelin Clay, and junior wideout Kenneth Scott. Travis Wilson is going to have to be aggressive against USC and get the ball to said playmakers. This USC defensive front is big and athletic. They will stack the box and key on Devontae Booker. Until Wilson connects regularly, this means that the O-line needs to have one hell of a game. If they can give Wilson time to go through his progressions, it will allow Utah to test the young corners of USC and open up some lanes for Booker. The Trojan defense gave up 403 total yards last week in their win against Colorado, without question they are talented, but there will be opportunities for Utah this weekend, and they will need to take advantage of every last one of them.
The D-line vs USC's Young O-line:
To this point the Trojan offensive line has been good, especially when you consider that they have been rotating in a couple of freshman. However, they have not played against a defensive front that has near the talent and skill of Utah. The Utes D-line leads the nation in sacks and tackles for a loss, and although some national "experts" have said those number are inflated, stats don't lie. Anyone that has watched Utah play knows just how physical and athletic Kalani Sitake's defensive unit is, and it will need to be on full display Saturday. The front seven need to be good for two main reasons:
- Pressuring Trojans' quarterback Cody Kessler has proven to force him into bad decisions. He has only thrown one interception, but he has been sacked 16 times.
- Eric Rowe will most likely be moving back to his natural position at safety this week. That will leave senior defensive back Davion Orphey and sophomore DB Dominique Hatfield in single coverage against the Trojan's big receivers. Pressuring the QB will be paramount in giving the DB's help on the outside.
Keep the Special Teams Train Rolling:
Andy Phillips, Tom Hackett, and Kaelin Clay will need to be, well... special. Utah is going to need to play like the complete team they have been through the first six weeks of play. Vegas currently has this game as a toss-up, and, traditionally, those types of games come down to a late kick and field position. Sound familiar?
Although it is going to be a tough game, with one or two big offensive plays, Utah can come out 6-1, bowl eligible, and rolling toward a Pac-12 South division title. They have equaled their wins from last year, they have fixed the deficiencies on defense and added key playmakers in crucial spots on both offense and defense. All that's left is for the offense to show up and make a statement in front of a packed Rice-Eccles Stadium and the nation.
Strap Em' Up Folks and enjoy the ride! it's what every Utah fan has been waiting for!
One more thing....Wake up early Saturday morning and check out the special on our very own Andy Phillips on College Game Day.