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Utah Opponent Preview: USC Offense

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Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Today we take a look at the USC offense. The Trojans run a pro style offense coordinated by interim head coach Clay Helton. They average 38.3 points per game, having run for 11 touchdowns and passed for 18 touchdowns this season. They rank fourth in the Pac-12 in total offense, averaging 510.7 yards per game of total offense, and are explosive, ranking first in the conference by almost an entire yard, with 7.49 yards per play.

Quarterback

At quarterback for USC is senior leader Cody Kessler. The 6-1 215 lb. veteran, is a prototypical pro style pocket passer. Kessler shows great poise in the pocket and is accurate, completing 68.5% of his passes this season. He has passed for 17 touchdowns and 5 interceptions this season and is averaging 303 yards passing a game. Considered a dark horse Heisman candidate entering the season, Kessler got off to a hot start through the Trojans first three games, throwing for 10 touchdowns no interceptions and completing 78% of his passes. In his last three starts, his numbers have taken a considerable hit, as he has thrown interceptions in his last three games. He has thrown 7 touchdowns against 5 interceptions and his completion percentage has dropped to 59%. Going up against a Utah defense with 13 interceptions through six games, Kessler will need to be careful throwing the ball against an opportunistic Utah secondary.

Running Back

The Trojans have three running backs that share the majority of carries. Senior Tre Madden, junior Justin Davis and freshman Ronald Jones II are the three main backs for USC.

Davis is the lightening to Tre Madden’s thunder. Davis is 6-1 195 lbs. and is quick on his feet and can run with speed. Madden is more of a bruiser, preferring to run through his tacklers rather than around them. Both backs have had an extensive history of injury throughout their USC careers, but have been productive when on the field. Davis is currently averaging 6.49 yards an attempt and has 227 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns this season, but only averages 7 attempts per game. Madden gets more carries, averaging 10.5 carries a game, but averages almost a yard less per carry at 5.6 yards per attempt. Madden has rushed for 356 yards this season and has 4 touchdowns.

Arguably the most impressive back for the Trojans this year has been freshman Ronald Jones II from Mckinney Texas. Jones, 6-0 185 lbs. can be explosive, averaging 8.64 yards per carry on only 7.33 carries per game. He leads the team with 380 rushing yards and has 3 touchdowns. Jones has shown he is productive in the limited opportunities he has received this season and many Trojan fans are calling for him to get more carries moving forward.

Receiver

The Trojans have maybe the most talented receiving corps of any team in college football. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the unquestioned leader of this group and is the leading receiver with 39 receptions, more than twice as many as the next leading receiver, Steven Mitchell Jr. who has 15 receptions. Only a sophomore, the 6-2 215 lb. Smith-Schuster is a big, fast receiver, who has the ability to create matchup problems on the outside. He can catch balls across the middle as well as beat his man for the deep ball. He has 758 receiving yards this season, averaging 19.44 yards per reception on 6.5 receptions per game and has caught 7 touchdowns.

Adoree’ Jackson, listed on the roster as a cornerback, is expected to spend more time on offense due to injuries depleting USC’s receiving group. Jackson is a world class athlete with speed to burn. He is a threat to score everytime he touches the ball, and that goes for defense, offense or special teams. Jackson has 11 receptions this season for 279 yards and 2 touchdowns. He averages an incredible 25.36 yards per reception.

The Utes might catch a break this week, as the Trojans third, fourth and fifth leading receivers are all questionable for Saturday’s game. Steven Mitchell Jr. has an ankle injury, Darreus Rogers has a hamstring injury and both are said to be 50-50 at best for this weekend’s game. Jalen Greene, a former quarterback who threw a touchdown pass on a trick play against Notre Dame, is also dealing with a tight hamstring.

Analysis

USC runs a very balanced offense, passing and running the ball about evenly, with 211 pass attempts against 198 rush attempts this season. USC likes to establish the run and use play action to throw deep to their big receivers for big yardage plays. Utah’s secondary should expect to be tested deep early in the game, as USC has been known to take a deep shot on their opening possession.

In the running game, the Utah front seven can expect to see a rotation of backs of varying running styles all afternoon. It shouldn’t matter too much who’s carrying the ball, however, as Utah has shown it is stout against the run, ranking first in the Pac-12 in rushing yards allowed per game and having allowed only two rushing touchdowns all season. USC has also had problems holding the line of scrimmage this season and has been out rushed by the opposition in four of their six games.

The matchup between USC’s mega talented receivers and Utah’s secondary will be the key in this game. Kessler has thrown for over 200 yards in five of their six games, and thrown for over three hundred yards three times this season.  The only game Kessler failed to break the 200 yard mark or throw a touchdown in, was unsurprisingly their 17-12 defeat at the hands of the Washington Huskies. If Kessler and Smith-Schuster get in a rhythm and Jackson is able to make a game breaking play or two, USC will be tough to beat in the Coliseum. If the Utah secondary can disrupt the passing game for Kessler and snag a couple interceptions, Utah should be able to leave L.A. with a win.