Burning Questions: Utah at USC
Another year, another 3-0 non-conference record for Utah football. The Utes defeated Idaho State 31-0 and rested most starters for the second half in their final matchup before Pac-12 play. The defense pitched a shutout and the offense turned on the jets for the tune up game.
Now the real test begins. On Friday, Utah travels to Los Angeles to face off with USC in a game which could decide Utah’s fate in the Pac-12 before it truly begins. Coming off an overtime loss to BYU in Provo, USC is still 1-0 in the conference after drubbing Stanford 45-20 in Week 2. This is an opportunity for Utah to solidify themselves on top of the South division—though a loss means uncertainty the rest of the season. We’ll find out if Utah can walk the walk soon enough.
Last Week’s Questions
Who will rise at wide receiver?
Two receptions, two touchdowns, 105 yards. That’s quite the stat line for Bryan Thompson, who rose to the occasion on an 82-yard catch-me-if-you-can touchdown and another toe-tap end zone score. He’s been praised by the offensive staff as the one to keep an eye on all spring, and he’s risen to the occasion thus far in the young season.
The strange thing—or promising thing, depending on how you look at it—is that last year’s threats haven’t produced much so far. Samson Nacua has just one reception all year. In 2018, he totaled 362 yards and five touchdowns. Britain Covey doesn’t look quite like his former himself either, though he still flashes excellence. That being said, with Covey, they wanted to minimize his usage before Pac-12 play.
Can the team remain healthy ahead of USC?
The Utes held out Julian Blackmon as a precaution from the contest, and RJ Hubert filled in the safety role nicely with six tackles. Blackmon will play against USC. Leki Fotu also suited and played after missing the NIU contest. As far as other key cogs such as Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley, they were able to go in, go to work, and get out before some fluke injury could occur. The Utes are rested and healthy going into the Coliseum.
Chasing history: Can these two Utes put a dent into the record books?
Zack Moss tallied 106 yards on just 10 carries and punched in a touchdown for good measure. That gives him 3,024 career rushing yards, just 195 behind the career mark. USC yields 145 yards on the ground per game, though they haven’t seen a tailback on the caliber of Moss thus far. Can Moss make history in LA? It’d be a spectacular performance, if so.
Bradlee Anae didn’t record any sacks, but was robbed of one when literally he, Fotu and John Penisini smothered the Idaho State quarterback at the same time. His quest for another 10 sacks to become the all-time record holder is still in play, though it’ll take an All-American performance.
This Week’s Questions
Which Kedon Slovis will we see?
There’s no question that the Trojans’ true freshman signal caller is an incredible talent. Against Stanford, he looked like Sam Darnold with 377 yards and four touchdowns. But the Cardinal went with a permeable man defense. BYU dropped eight into zone coverage and Slovis’ production stuttered—while he went 24 for 34, with two touchdowns and 281 yards, he also threw three interceptions. The 10 points off of turnovers for BYU was the difference in the game. Slovis is the wildcard. If he performs as well as he did against Stanford, it could spell trouble for Utah. If he gets flustered and makes mistakes, Utah needs to capitalize. Which leads us to our next question...
Can Utah win the turnover battle?
The Utes, with weapons in the secondary such as Jaylon Johnson, Tareke Lewis, Javelin Guidry and Julian Blackmon, have thrived in coverage. USC has their own weapons in Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns, and Amon-Ra St. Brown. The Utes will likely play USC similar to BYU’s defense—drop an extra man or two into coverage, let the defensive line go to work, and call on the secondary to defend or reign in 50/50 balls.
On the same note, Tyler Huntley has been on a near immaculate streak of late. He threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns, completing 15 of 19 attempts. He hasn’t thrown an interception all year, and he’s putting the ball exactly where it needs to go. His experience will show head-to-head with the freshman Slovis.
Can Utah live up to the hype?
This question is obscure and open-ended for a reason. There’s no doubt that Utah has the edge in experience, at running back, at quarterback (do you like production or efficiency? If you prefer efficiency, Huntley wins by a landslide), and on defense. USC will win some games this season on sheer athleticism, but top to bottom, Utah has the edge on most fronts.
Is Utah comfortable outside of the underdog role? They are the no. 10 team in the country, so you’d hope the spotlight isn’t too bright for the Utes. This is a weekend to prove that they belong at the upper echelon of the conference and country.
Bonus: Is BYU the best team in the state?
There were plenty of rabid Cougar fans out on Twitter after their USC win on Saturday claiming “BYU has the best team in the state” and “if the game was played tomorrow, BYU would beat Utah” and other drivel. There are ways to definitively prove one way or the other the answer to this kind of question. They’re called football games. Utah played and won that contest handily, and anyone who claims Utah isn’t the best team in the state is living in their own world. Dream on little brother, but I do hope for nothing but the best for Kalani Sitake.