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USC Football

A Pair of Takes: Know The Enemy, Utah Utes

July 21, 2021
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Marc Kulkin

USC is(should be) now 5-0 on the season as they now prepare for the Utah Utes.  And unlike the Colorado trap game, the game against the Utes begins a stretch where the Trojans will play 3 of their next four games on the road, starting with the Fighting Irish following next week's bye.

The Legend of Matt Fink, now two years removed, has faded into the horizon, and last season USC took care of business in Salt Lake City, which gives the Trojans 7 wins against three losses since the Utes joined the PAC-12 Conference.  With the game is back in LA this year when the teams meet this October, the Trojans will look to keep the Utes winless in LA.--That is unless you want to go back to the epic brawl of 1916 when Utah shocked USC in Los Angeles.

Just as a reminder and to add some context, Utah was the last school from a power-5 conference to make its 2020 debut, so ehen the two teams met in Salt Lake City last season, the Trojans already had two wins under their helmet; It would be Utah's first game of their season after The Covid killed their first two scheduled games.

USC won last year's game "convincingly" 33-17 using an efficient enough offense and an overwhelming defense that forced 5 Ute turnovers and kept Utah off the scoreboard in the 2nd half.

  

Following the game, Coach Helton was effusive with his praise for the Trojan's defense. Even though the offense struggled to convert those turnovers into TD's, settling for 4 Parker Lewis FG's, Kedon Slovis did finish the night going 24-35-264, including a couple of TD passes. "We played with a swagger tonight, especially on defense," coach Clay Helton said.  Kanai Mauga, who was starting for Palaie Gaoteote, took it a step further, "All week, our guys talked about playing like this was a bar fight. We played with a lot of viciousness and everyone was zeroed in." 

That will probably be the same game plan the Trojans will employ when the teams meet on Week-6. 

What to look forward to from the Utes this year?   On offense, Utah's roster had some attrition and, like USC, they used the transfer portal to fill some essential needs.  One of those areas of emphasis was at running back; Ty Jordan's tragic death stunned the country, and during the off-season, Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore transferred away from Utah.  In their place came transfers, TJ Pledger from Oklahoma and LSU transfer, Chris Curry who will join RS freshman Micah Bernard competing for the carries.

Playing QB in 2021 for Kyle Whittingham is still to be determined; Utah brought in Charlie Brewer from Baylor, who has tons of starting experience.  But the Utes also have RS sophomore Cameron Rising returning; he won last year's fall competition for the starter role, Texas freshman Ja'Quinden Jackson(via the portal), and four-star 2021 commit Peter Costelli is also on campus.  

One thing we can anticipate when talking about Utah; good offensive lines.  The Utes return all five starters, which means Center Nick Ford is back to anchor what is typically a big and physical group.

Can Utah find a consistent passing game that will make the difference when they play USC?  They could not make that happen last year, so hopefully, another year of leading receiver TE Brant Kuithe and WR's Britain Covey, Solomon Enis, and Devaughn Vele, the addition of former UCLA Bruin and Oklahoma Sooners Theo Howard give the Utes their winning formula.

Flipping over to the defensive side of the ball, Utah will be looking for a bounceback type of year.  They haven't been per se'; however, the Ute's secondary the last couple of years has been attacked with a lot of success.  There's talent returning with Clark Phillips and JaTravis at the cornerback spots and safety Vonte Davis.  But they will be without the services of Nate Ritchie starting his church mission.

A War of Wills along the line of scrimmage will be something to watch when the teams play.  Utah excelled at stopping the run last year, and USC sucked at running the ball.  Keep an eye on the battle in the trenches again this year.   Utah is massive once again upfront, starting with 323-pound senior Viane Moala in the middle and Mike Tafua and Maxs Tupai at the defensive end spots.  Behind their Polynesian Wall are some stout linebackers led by Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell.

If the Trojans can't get their running game going this time around when the Utes get to LA, I'm not sure if USC can stay undefeated on the season.  We know it will be the Utes first win in Los Angeles since you had to crank the car from the front to get it started.

Josh An

The USC-Utah matchup has brought out some interesting outcomes over the years. In 2018, “Pittman gotta be over there somewhere” was born, although the final outcome of that game certainly did not work in favor of the Trojans. Then in 2019, all look lost when Kedon Slovis went down, only for Matt Fink to come out and deliver a legendary off-the-bench performance for USC. Then there was last season, in which USC was playing its third game, while the Utes were playing their first because of COVID issues. With a full offseason under their belt, I expect Utah and Kyle Wittingham’s program to bounce back next season.

Moving into the 2021 matchup, the Utes will look different. Out is Jake Bentley and in is Charlie Brewer, the seasoned veteran who started multiple years at Baylor. If Utah can unlock the 2019 version of Brewer, they will be a scary team to play at this point in the season. While the Utes are solid upfront and will return all five of their offensive lineman, the skill positions are a motley crew of transfers and returners. UCLA/Oklahoma transfer Theo Howard has found a home in SLC and the reliable Britain Covey and Brant Kuithe also return. At running back, the Utes tragically lost star RB Ty Jordan, and their other runnings back Devin Brumfield and Jordan Willmore both transferred. Thus, they will turn to TJ Pledger, Micah Bernard, and Chris Curry to carry the running load.

Defensively, it all starts with star LB Devin Lloyd. The redshirt junior earned All-American honors last season and should be in line for another strong year. Alongside him, Nephi Sewell emerged as another strong linebacker for Morgan Scalley’s defense. JaTravis Broughton(Pac-12 Honorable Mention) and Clark Phillips III are two names that emerged for a young Ute secondary last year and should be named to look out for again this season. And on the defensive line, they are led by Mika Tafua, who had 3 sacks in the shortened season.

Tags: Football
 
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