(20) USC (5-2) at (19) Utah (5-1) (ET)

GAME NOTES: In a Top-25 matchup between Pac-12 Conference foes, the 20th-
ranked USC Trojans pay a visit to the 19th-ranked Utah Utes.

Despite a roller coaster past couple of seasons, USC has been a common sight
in the national rankings. The Trojans piled up 56 points in a win over
Colorado last Saturday, which was a nice follow-up to a 28-26 road upset of
Arizona. USC is now 5-2 overall and 4-1 in league play, placing it squarely in
the middle of the conference title chase.

Utah’s short tenure in the Pac-12 has not led to a lot of big wins or national
attention, but the Utes are hoping to changed all that this season. They boast
a record of 5-1 overall, and their No. 19 ranking is their highest since
November of 2010 when they were still members of the Mountain West Conference.
Utah is just 2-1 in league play, however, so it still has to maintain its
current level of success to have a shot at the conference crown.

Last year’s matchup between these teams was not for the faint of heart. The
host Trojans grinded out a 19-3 victory at home, improving to 9-3 in the all-
time series.

Cody Kessler absolutely erupted against Colorado, and so did the USC offense.
The Trojans’ quarterback threw for 319 yards on 19-of-26 passing. More
importantly, and impressively, he set a school record with seven touchdown
passes. Although he has not always been that productive, Kessler has been
rock-solid this season, completing nearly 70 percent of his throws for 1,884
yards and 18 touchdowns, compared to just a single interception.

“I think he is running our offense really well,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian
said. “We have a lot of plays in the system where he has dual reads and pass
play options. He handles everything really well. He takes our coaching well.
Coach Helton and I are not buddy buddies with him during the week. We coach
this guy harder than any other guy on our team. He accepts it and comes to
work everyday with the mind set to get better.”

With Kessler slinging the ball all over the yard, the Trojans were able to
rack up 532 yards of total offense against the Buffaloes, the most they have
had in a game since the season opener against Fresno State. They are ranked
eighth in the league in total offense (462.7 ypg), and sixth in scoring (35.6

Nelson Agholor recorded his first 100-yard game of the season against
Colorado, finishing with 128 yards and three touchdowns on six receptions. He
has had at least six catches in each of the last three games, and has amassed
533 yards and seven scores on 48 total grabs. JuJu Smith (26 receptions, 350
yards, TD) is a nice second option, while Javorius Allen (24 receptions, 290
yards, TD) can make catches out of the backfield.

Of course, Allen has been much more valuable with his work in the running
game, posting 909 yards and eight touchdowns on 150 carries. He leads the
Pac-12 in carries and rushing yards, with no other player in the league
logging more than 820 yards. Allen tallied 128 yards and a score against
Colorado, marking his fourth straight game with over 100 yards.

If the offense continues to perform at such a high level, USC should be very
difficult to beat, considering how well it has played on defense. The Trojans
rank fourth in the Pac-12 in total defense (404.7 ypg) and third in points
allowed (23.1 ppg).

The Trojans will have an interesting challenge this weekend as they face off
against Devontae Booker and one of the more unique quarterback situations in
the country.

Last week, both Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson each saw time under center,
although the duo combined for only 62 yards and an interception on 9-of-18
passing. Wilson has thrown for 833 yards and seven touchdowns, all without a
pick, while completing 56.8 percent of his passes. Thompson has fewer pass
attempts, but he is second on the team in rushing yards (164). A resolution to
the issue doesn’t seem to be coming soon.

“We need to work that out, don’t we?,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of his
quarterback situation. “I can’t tell you right now. Each of them played a full
half. We’ll have to evaluate that. We like them both. They are two guys that
we have confidence in, and they both had their chance tonight. We’ll evaluate
the game in its entirety and probably not make an announcement again next

Booker provides much more certainty out of the backfield, as the Utah running
back has piled up 742 yards and seven touchdowns on 120 carries. Booker
recorded the 12th 200-yard rushing performance in school history last weekend,
finishing with 229 yards to go along with three touchdowns.

As far as receiving threats go, Kenneth Scott (22 receptions, 228 yards, three
TDS) and Dres Anderson (19 receptions, 325 yards, four TDs) are the most
productive options. They are also two of only four players with 10 receptions
or more.

One of the few teams in the Pac-12 playing better defense than USC at the
moment is Utah. The Utes rank third in the league in total defense (328.7 ypg)
and second in scoring defense (21.7 ppg). The key has been the pass rush,
which, led by Nate Orchard’s 10.5 sacks, leads the country in quarterback
takedowns (33).

Last season, these teams met in a defensive struggle and that should once
again be the case, with both team’s strengths being their defenses and rushing
attacks. USC’s major advantage is at quarterback, and that could prove to be
the difference.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 24, Utah 21