The Utah Utes (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) will take on the No. 13 USC Trojans (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) at the L. A. Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, Calif. in primetime on ABC at 6:00 p.m. MT (5:00 p.m. PT). The winner of this game will be the frontrunner to win the Pac-12 South in 2017. USC came into the season a national champion pick, but their loss at Washington State has hurt their chances at that. Utah is looking for their first unshared Pac-12 South title, something every other team in the Pac-12 South has achieved. A win in this game would do a lot to help Utah’s Pac-12 South championship aspirations. One thing going for the Utes is the fact that they have won 11 straight games as an unranked team in the AP Poll.
This will be the earliest game Utah has played all season. This is the first time since joining the Pac-12 conference that Utah has played in primetime on ABC. With a lack of marquee games today, and the fact that this game is on primetime nationally, a lot of people should be watching this game. One of these teams can use this big stage to make a statement to the nation. USC quarterback Sam Darnold came into the season as a Heisman frontrunner, but he has fallen behind in the race. If he plays well in primetime, he could catapult himself back into the discussion. Utah on the other hand is a team that often gets overlooked by many in the nation. If they can go into L.A. and win, they could make the biggest statement to the nation since they demolished the Oregon Ducks 62-20 in Autzen Stadium in 2015. That Oregon game coincidentally started at 6:30 p.m. MT on Fox, a primetime national game that Utah won as double-digit underdog on the road. This is a rare national showcase for the Pac-12, so enjoy it Pac-12 fans and East coast voters who might be seeing Utah for the first time this season.
Injuries could hamper both teams
Both teams are banged up. Utah could be without quarterback Tyler Huntley, who suffered an injury against Arizona and missed the game against the Stanford Cardinal. Utah was also without both of their starting defensive ends against Stanford, Bradlee Anae and Kylie Fitts. Anae and Fitts both dressed against Stanford unlikely Huntley who did not. Utah is also without running back Armand Shyne this year, who suffered an injury before the season and is redshirting.
USC has suffered multiple injuries on the offensive line. Guard Viane Talamaivao is out for the season, and tackle Nathan Smith is expected to miss the game against Utah. Tackle Chuma Edoga is expected to play, but he has been dealing with injuries this season, so he may not be fully healthy in this game. Freshman running back Stephen Carr is expected to miss the game, USC’s second leading rusher. The USC pass rush is also banged up. Outside linebacker and Utah native Porter Gustin is expected to miss the game. True freshman defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu is out for the season for USC. Defensive linemen Josh Fatu and Rasheem Green are both expected to play, but they both recovering from injuries, so they could be limited. Another who is expected to play but could be limited due to injury is tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe. Another dangerous pass catcher for USC who is expected to play is wide receiver Deontay Burnett, who is recovering from a toe injury. USC is starting to get players back from injury, but they are still one of the most banged up teams in the country. Utah may have few players out in this game, but all the injuries are to key players.
Can Utah create some havoc?
The Utah defense makes hay with havoc plays. Sacks and turnovers are the specialties for the Utah D, but they failed to record a single sack against Stanford and could not force a turnover. If Utah wants to pull off the big road upset, they need to create some havoc. USC has lost 13 turnovers on the season, which is ninth in the Pac-12. Utah has forced 14 turnovers, good for fourth in the conference. The Utes forced five turnovers in their win over Arizona. Darnold has thrown at least one interception in every game this season. The Utah defense will have opportunities to force turnovers in this game, and they will need to capitalize on them. The Utes will also need to be careful with the football. The Trojans are tied for second in the Pac-12 with 15 forced turnovers this year. Utah has lost four turnovers in their two Pac-12 games. A team cannot turnover the football multiple times if they want to pull off a road upset over a heavy favorite.
Sacks may be harder to come by against the Trojans. USC has allowed 10 sacks on the season, which is 1.67 per game, not a bad number but also not stellar. It will be interesting to see how the USC offensive line can handle the Utah defensive line, especially if Anae and Fitts are back at defensive end. Darnold is mobile and was only sacked by Utah once last year. The Utah front has not gotten as many sacks this year as usual. They rank eighth in the Pac-12 this season in sacks per game with 2.20. They only have two sacks in two Pac-12 games this year. They need to get more pressure on Darnold than they did last year and create more consistent pressure than they have this season against Pac-12 opponents if they want to knock off the Trojans.