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Opponent Preview: USC Defense

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NCAA Football: San Jose State at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still early in the season, but at this point, it seems clear that Arizona is hands-down the worst team in the PAC-12. The winless Wildcats couldn’t even beat FCS foe Northern Arizona, who themselves carry a lousy 2-3 record. Their offense isn’t totally inept, scoring 68 points this season, but a porous defense that has allowed 124 points is a glaring weakness. Believe it or not, the Trojan’s defense that Utah will be taking on this Saturday is equally as bad.

Looking at the raw numbers, it’s hard to see which defense is worse, with the Wildcats giving up 5.78 yards per play, barely better than USC’s 5.87. The Trojans are giving up 3.20 offensive touchdowns per game, compared to Arizona’s 3.25. USC’s 361.4 yards allowed per game edges out Arizona’s 364 yards by a trivial margin. Utah’s ground attack should feasibly make gains against a USC defensive front that is giving up 4.2 yards per rush, which again is mere inches better than U of A’s 4.68 yards per rush. Through the air, USC’s defense is allowing 7.89 yards per passing attempt, where the Wildcats are relinquishing 7.82. Needless to say, the Utes shouldn't struggle to move the ball against one of the South’s worst overall defensive units.

While Cam Rising has been nothing if not accurate since taking over as starting quarterback for Utah, seven different Trojans have come away with interceptions this season, including one pick-six from senior nickelback Greg Johnson (5’11”, 195 lbs) in week one. Keeping Rising free of turnovers against a ball-hungry secondary may prove difficult, especially considering the Utes have committed eight turnovers this season, though the three INTs on record came pre-Rising.

Junior strong safety Chase Williams (6’2”, 200 lbs) currently leads all Trojans with 27 total tackles. Despite generally tight coverage, Williams has yet to record a pass deflection or INT. In fact, despite collecting seven total INTs as a unit, only seven pass deflections have been recorded by the Trojans by seven different players, making it hard to pinpoint one single player along the secondary to highlight as USC’s stud. That same problem can’t be found up front.

Drake Jackson (6’4”, 250 lbs), USC’s junior outside linebacker has amassed 3 sacks on the season, along with one INT, one deflection, and a forced fumble with a recovery this season. In fact, Jackson may be the sole reason USC’s defense isn’t significantly worse, as evidenced by his performance against Colorado, which featured a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it interception early in the third quarter and a vicious sack where he was able to dart around lineman with ease in the closing minutes of the third. Considering Utah’s struggles along the offensive line, Jackson could be the most dangerous weapon the Trojan’s field this weekend.

If Utah’s offense can continue to improve with Rising behind center, there’s no reason to believe the Utes won’t leave the Collosieum victorious, solidifying the South as a three-dog race between Utah, ASU and UCLA.