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Utah Opponent Preview: USC Defense

NCAA Football: Southern California at Brigham Young Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Utes travel to Los Angeles for a Friday night bout against a formidable Trojan’s defense that will go a long way in helping decide who claims the South division, while also claiming their first ever win inside the storied Colosseum.

Utah’s offense has cruised to victory in each and every non-conference game but will likely be tested against arguably the most talented defensive line they’ve faced in the opening weeks of the 2019 season. Highlighted by the three-headed monster of sophomores Marlon Tuipilotu, Jay Tufele, and the lone senior, Christian Rector, the trio have combined for 32 tackles through three games, along with 3.5 sacks, while freshman Drake Jackson showed a knack for pressuring the quarterback in last week’s tilt with BYU, recording 1.5 sacks, earning him the early title of “sack leader” with two total.

At linebacker, the Trojans have the added benefit of veteran stability in senior John Houston Jr, who was the team’s second leading tackler in 2018 (and again in 2019, recording 26 tackles, just two less than safety Talanoa Hufanga), as well as sophomore Palaie Gaoteote IV, who gained some starting experience last season in relief of the injured Cameron Smith. At 6’2”, 250 lbs, Gaoteote is a wrecking ball of a human, already having recorded 18 total tackles in his first full season as a starter.

Downfield is where things start to get a little more dicey for USC’s defense, as a bevy of young talent populates a highly susceptible secondary. The previously mentioned sophomore safety, Talanoa Hufanga currently leads the defense with 28 total tackles (19 solo and nine assisted), with one pass deflection to his name. Hufanga started just five games in 2018 and missed substantial time at the end of the season with a broken collarbone, however he has shown great value early on in 2019 for a young Trojans secondary. Sophomore cornerback Greg Johnson is the only corner on the roster with any in-game experience and has recorded one of the two interceptions USC’s defense has tallied in 2019 (the other going to safety Isaiah Pola-Mao).

On paper, the 2019 Trojan defense isn’t quite on par with the talent fielded in 2018, when Utah’s own Tyler Huntley went 22/29 for 341 yards and four touchdowns (plus an additional rushing TD), however Utah’s offensive line has been retooled just as much as USC’s defense. Knowing this, a more pass-heavy approach seems like the logical way to exploit USC and pick up the fourth straight win of the season.