Even before the 2019 season kicked off, USC’s offense seemed cursed. Starting with the blink-and-you-missed-it hiring of offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, who bolted for the NFL before the ink had dried on his contract, to the deluge of transfers, which mired the Trojans as last as last week when wideout Devon Williams announced his intentions to leave the program, just days after quarterback Jack Sears opted to sit out this season with the intention to find a new team in 2020, to the opening week injury to incumbent starting quarterback, JT Daniels, who is now out for the season, USC has trudged through more drama in a matter of weeks than most teams do in a decade. Now, with a top-ranked Utah defense on the horizon, the PAC-12 will see if the seemingly constant stream of disarray has made the Trojans offense stronger, or if this unit has already cracked.
Little needs to be said about the Trojan receivers. Junior Tyler Vaughns already leads the team with 23 receptions for 321 yards, while other proven commodities including senior Michael Pittman Jr and sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown have combined for 25 additional grabs for 344 total yards. The downfield trio is speedy, shifty and should prove to be a formidable threat against a highly touted Utah secondary. But none of that means anything if there’s no one to deliver the ball. Enter true freshman Kedon Slovis.
Thrown into action after Daniel’s went down with a season-ending leg injury in week one, Slovis has shown flashes of brilliance in roughly two and a half games, completing 58 of his 75 attempts for 715 yards, with five touchdowns. In his first start, Slovis cut apart the Stanford defense, completing 84.8% of his passes, while averaging 11.4 yards per connection, and finding the end zone three different times. Things changed in Provo last week, however, as the freshman understudy dropped his completion rating down to 70.6%, with an 8.3 yard passing average, and with two touchdowns and three interceptions against BYU. USC’s success will undoubtedly depend upon how well their young quarterback rebounds from last week’s loss to the Cougars.
In the backfield, the Trojans will attack Utah’s defensive line with a healthy dose of juniors Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr. Malepeai has taken the bulk of the rushing attempts thus far in 2019, recording 272 yards on 58 carries, good for 4.7 yards on average, while Carr has taken 21 carries for 111 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. With Malepeai taking the mantle of rushing workhorse, Carr has been utilized as more of a slot receiver at times, utilizing his solid hands and stable feet to reel in 10 passes for an additional 75 yards. Together, the duo has accounted for seven total touchdowns through the first three weeks.
Utah’s defense will get their first big test since the week one victory in Provo, and the timing couldn’t be better, considering Mike Leach’s version of the air raid offense is next up on the schedule. Getting a chance how well the Ute defense matches up against Graham Harrell’s unit should be a good measuring stick for what this season’s squad is really capable of.