Due to positive COVID-19 tests, we have yet to see the Utah Utes take the field in 2020. That should all change at 8:30 tonight when the USC Trojans roll into town with their No. 20 ranking and 2-0 record. The Trojans were the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 South, and USC’s win over the Arizona State Sun Devils means Utah is likely their only real obstacle. While this season is so abbreviated with the late start and cancellations due to COVID that is lacks the meaning of previous seasons, it still would be a statement for a very young Utah team to knock off the Trojans.
There are a lot of question marks surrounding this Utah team due to both their youth and not yet playing a game this year. Here are three key questions about the Utes heading into this game.
Who starts at quarterback?
While the Utah offense brings back a lot, quarterback is not one. Tyler Huntley graduated after his stellar 2019 season, so the Utes will have a new player behind center. No disrespect to Drew Lisk, but the likely starter is between Texas Longhorns transfer Cameron Rising and South Carolina Gamecocks transfer Jake Bentley. Bentley has the leg up in game experience as a multi-year starter at South Carolina before graduate transferring to Utah this past offseason. Rising redshirted his only season at Texas and spent all of last year on Utah’s roster, so he has more experience in Andy Ludwig’s offense. Bentley has the prototypical size and arm strength you want in a quarterback, but he struggled with accuracy throughout his career. Rising is a lot more mobile than Bentley, which could give him an edge. It is hard to know exactly what Utah has in Rising because he has never taken a college snap. Given that there were rumors swirling that Britain Covey could take snaps at quarterback had Utah played the UCLA Bruins, it seems likely that Utah’s quarterback room was affected by the COVID outbreak, so who we see suit up at quarterback against USC might not be the player who won the job in fall camp. Hopefully all of the quarterbacks are healthy and off any potential quarantine. If that happens, I predict we see Rising start.
How does the young Utah secondary fair against USC’s talented wide receivers?
With the hiring of Graham Harrell as offensive coordinate before last season, USC has moved to an air raid offense. USC always has a bevy of talented wide receivers, so the offense has suited their personnel well. USC was the only team to beat Utah in the regular season last year, with the Utes struggling to stop USC’s passing offense. That 2019 secondary sent every starter to the NFL could not stop USC’s aerial onslaught, now a brand new secondary will be baptized by fire. There is a lot of talent in the group, they just lack experience. Some of the players have taken special teams reps or backup reps in seasons past, but we will likely see a few true freshmen (Clark Phillips III and Nate Ritchie both of whom were four-star recruits) start or play significant minutes. This will be a great test for the young secondary and help them gain valuable experience. Thankfully for Utah at least Michael Pittman is in the NFL now.
Who is still out for Utah due to COVID?
The outbreak was over two weeks ago, so Utah should get most of the initial group of players back, but we know they had at least one positive COVID test last Friday that caused the cancellation of the UCLA game. Utah will likely be missing some players (maybe even some starters) due to being positive for COVID or still on quarantine. Who those players are and what positions they play could prove to be a key factor in the game against USC.