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USC Football

USC Scoop’s YAY Or NAY: It’s USC vs Utah Week

November 19, 2020
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USC's two back-to-back come from behind wins to start the 2020 season is a positive sign.

NAY--For the first time in USC history, the Trojans have won back-to-back contests with game-winning scores in the final two minutes. Somebody may consider this a positive sign of a team's development; however, there's another trend buried within the numbers when we dig deeper. 

In contrast, USC's offense under Graham Harrell has been prolific at times. Other times, not so much.  

USC has won six of its last eight contests by eight points or less, and not all of the blame lies at the feet of the offense. However, lately, the offense has been laying eggs in the red zone and sacrificing points. Lots of points! The Trojans have reached the red zone on 14 of their 27 possessions through their first two games; yet, they've only scored on 71% of those chances; By comparison, last season, the Trojans converted 86.5% of those opportunities. These are not good trends, nor are they signs pointing toward the positive.

Surprising Utah with Kedon Slovis lined up under center is an advantage.

YAY—Imagine how confused the Utah Ute's coaching staff would be if USC did this during short-yardage situations? The question is, will Graham Harrell relent to the pressure from the outside who have been screaming for this, or will he stay true to himself and his offensive identity?

As mentioned above, USC has struggled to maximize her red zone opportunities, in large part because of the inability to run the ball when needing just one-yard. It's hard to fathom a Trojan football team converting only 4 of 11 attempts when running the ball on third- and fourth-and-1.

We know Coach Harrell can hear the howls from the forest, and he was asked why the Trojans have not shown the quarterback under center look. "It's just a mentality," Harrell said. "At the end of the day if you come in there with the right mentality and the right mindset and decide you're gonna be physical and go get it, we're gonna go get it."

I can get on board with Harrell's answer above. However, I cannot and will not accept the rationale he shared with the media on Tuesday when he said the following: "That's not something we do." Harrell added it's difficult to implement those exchanges with limited practice time, and he would instead focus on getting good at what USC does already. More than anything, "it's just not something we do a ton of." "Less and less of it in general." "It takes time and we're limited with time in practice."

Kedon Slovis will remain turnover-free in the fourth quarter.

YAY--Taken from the "Did You Know" files, Kedon 'FreaKing' Slovis, during his Trojan career, has thrown 11 touchdowns against 0 interceptions in the fourth quarter of games.  Considering how lucky the 'FreaKing' one has been his last couple of games with near interceptions and the fact that Rice-Eccles Stadium is USC's Boot Hill, if Slovis can maintain this streak, it will go a long way towards another Trojan victory.  

Slovis is 70 of 98 passing for 706 yards and three touchdowns against just one interception on the season, and his 71.4% completion percentage ranks 7th in FBS this year. Those numbers jump out when you consider that 21 of 26 of those attempts for 257 yards and three touchdowns have come on the final four drives of those back-to-back comeback wins!

The Trojan's strength of schedule should have an asterisk next to it.

YAY--For the third week in a row, USC will play an opponent who will be offering the Trojan staff the challenge of preparing with no film to review and game plan against. USC's current SOS has a No. 47 rankings, with ASU, who many consider the Trojans' most formidable foe, already in their rearview mirror. On Saturday night in Utah, with a local kick-off time of MST.8:30 PM, the Trojans will attempt to bring home a victory from a place where they have not won since 2012; the Utes have won their last three home games against the Trojans, and overall USC has lost 3 out of the previous five matches between the two schools in the series.  

Oh, did I mention the altitude and potential weather conditions the Trojans will also have to prepare for?  

Why are we even discussing the strength of schedule? When we start to look at the teams ahead of USC in the polls, who will be in consideration for the PAC-12's playoff berth, the SOS comparisons will be a part of the discussion. Hopefully, this nuance will be taken into consideration by the voters. 

PS two out of the three games were also played on the road during back-to-back weeks.

PPS. Utah has won their last ten home openers.

USC will surpass the 200-yard mark on the ground against Utah.

YAY--Kyle Whittingham learned his lesson the hard way last season in Los Angeles, and I do not anticipate him making the same mistake twice. Last season, Whittingham tested fate and Matt Fink, believing his secondary could match man to man with the USC receivers. He was wrong, and Fink made the Ute secondary pay the price for their coach's decision. Since that game, other teams have chosen to take away the Trojan passing lanes by dropping 7 or 8 defenders into pass coverage, daring USC to run the ball. When the Trojans take the bait, the run game has averaged 175 yards per game through the season's first two games. When they don't, the offense has a tendency to struggle.

The 2020 season would be challenging for the Utes without COVID as they look to replace starters on both sides of the ball. And this leaves Coach Whittingham in a lurch as he tries to defend the USC offense. For one, this will be the Ute's first game of the season once their first two games were canceled. Secondly and more importantly, Utah has to replace all five secondary players who were taught the 'hard lesson' last season. When we consider the challenges Utah had to deal with trying to field enough healthy players for practice, and at the same time trying to identify new defensive starters, it would be even MORE embarrassing for the Trojan offense to come out slow and underachieve for a third week in a row. One way to make sure the offense is working well is to hit the 200-yard mark on the ground.

USC will hold the Utes to less than 150 yards rushing.

NAY--I would like nothing more than to say, 'YAY' although the Trojans have not shown the ability yet to make that number appear as a tangible goal. Especially in Salt Lake City, where Utah has their way with the Trojans. Utah will either start junior Devin Brumfield and his two career starts or LA native sophomore Jordan Wilmore with zero starts; combined, they have 33 games of playing experience. 

The Utes will have even less experience at the quarterback position, so I anticipate that Coach Whittingham will lean on his running game as he eases the new signal-caller into his comfort zone.

Todd Orlando would like nothing more than to be able to stuff the run and force Utah to rely on their quarterback's throwing ability in what's anticipated to be a cold evening.  Every game USC plays, they have the advantage with the player talent compared to their opponent.  The question(s) seem to always be about coaching and making adjustments.  Last week against Arizona, the Trojan staff made a couple of adjustments at halftime and were able to limit the Arizona QB's ability to scramble for yards extending drives.  Will those adjustments carry over this week without any film to watch or knowing who the Ute quarterback will be on Saturday?  If the Trojans can make the necessary changes early, the "NAY" could be switched to a "YAY" quickly.

 
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