Opponent Preview: USC’s Offense
Third times a charm? After being sidelined for two weeks due to COVID-19 protocols, Utah finally looks poised to be hitting the field for the first time in 2020, and as fate would have it, they’ll be taking on the division favorite who have had two games to find some kind of groove.
Sophomore sensation, Kedon Slovis (6’2”, 200 lbs.) has been consistent behind center, completing 71.4% of his pass attempts, nearly matching his 2019 total of 71.9%, with three touchdowns and one interception late in the first quarter against Arizona State in week one. As one would expect out of USC, Slovis is a pure pocket passer, and shouldn’t pose much if any run threat against a Utah defense that traditionally struggles to contain mobile quarterbacks, but is undoubtedly one of the top QB’s in the conference so far this season.
Utah will however need to keep a trio of talented rushers in check for four quarters if they hope to open their belated season with a win at home. Leading rusher Markese Stepp (6’0”, 235 lbs.) has taken 26 carries for 135 yards, finding the end zone twice. A promising star, Stepp has been hampered by injuries every season dating back to his sophomore year of high school, with his most recent coming October 19 of last season against Arizona when he tore ligaments in his foot, ending his season early. Thankfully for the Trojans, senior Stephen Carr (6’0”, 215 lbs.) is another proven commodity in the backfield, amassing 1,268 total yards so far through his four seasons in Southern California, and is just ten yards shy of Stepp’s leading rusher status in 2020. Rounding out SC’s embarrassment of riches on the ground is last season’s leading rusher, senior Vavae Malepeai (6’0”, 220 lbs.). The Hawaiian native chewed up 503 yards in 2019 for the Trojans and had never recorded a single fumble until week one against ASU when he lost the ball on a first and goal from the Sun Devil’s three yard line. Since that moment, Malepeai has seen his playing time reduced as Stepp and Carr have taken the bulk of the carries for the Trojans, but Utah should still plan for a sizable dose of the talented senior.
Adding to the Trojan’s offensive attack, a total of 12 players have reeled in at least one catch for Slovis through two games, with none other than junior Amon-Ra St. Brown (6’,1”, 195 lbs.) leading the charge with 213 yards on just 14 receptions, with a long of 48 yards. The future Sunday player is almost always one of the most talented players on the field whenever the Trojan’s offense is in control, utilizing his speed and almost magnetic hands to embarrass opposing secondaries. Alongside St. Brown, sophomore Drake London (6’5”, 210 lbs.) and senior Tyler Vaughs (6’2”, 190 lbs.) have accounted for most of USC’s receiving production, with the trio accounting for 519 yards of offense, though London is the lone receiver of the bunch to find the end zone this season.
Keeping USC’s passing attack grounded will be even more difficult with redshirt freshman Bru McCoy making his long-awaited debut with the Trojans this season. Following a dramatic recruiting process that saw the former five star receiver enroll at USC, only to transfer to Texas, then back to USC all within the span of six months, followed by a mystery illness that left him sidelined for all of 2019, the 6’3”, 220 lb. wideout could be one of the next big names out of Southern California. Though he’s only reeled in eight passes for 76 yards, he’s one of only three receivers to find the end zone off a Kedon Slovis pass and will absolutely have a breakout game sooner than later, one just has to hope that won’t come against Utah.
Two come-from-behind last minute victories have kept USC the division favorites, especially as Utah and ASU battle positive COVID tests throughout their programs, but a Utah victory on Saturday night could quickly shift that conversation to the Utes’ favor, but a young, relatively inexperienced defense will have to play with everything that have to keep up with a proven Trojan offense.