Southern Cal-Utah Preview
Back on track in the Pac-12, Southern California has had ample time to prepare for its next conference challenge.
So too, has upset-minded Utah.
The No. 13 Trojans look to avoid that upset as they face the Utes in their first visit to Salt Lake City in 95 years Thursday night.
After losing 21-14 at then-No. 21 Stanford on Sept. 15, USC (3-1, 1-1) rebounded with a 27-9 home win over California on Sept. 22. The Trojans totaled 488 yards, including 296 on the ground, to regain some confidence and prove they might have been worthy of their preseason No. 1 ranking.
"I think it's great the way we bounced back,'' said quarterback Matt Barkley, who was 22 of 34 for 192 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. "We shut out what people were saying about us.''
Idle this past weekend, USC was able to rest up and completely focus on its next task. The Trojans returned a blocked field goal 68 yards for a TD as time expired during last season's 23-14 home win over Utah, and expect another difficult challenge as they visit Salt Lake City for the first time since a 51-0 victory over the Utes in 1917.
"We are not taking them lightly at all," Barkley told USC's official website. "It's going to be a big game for them and their fans."
Though the Utes (2-2, 0-1) suffered a 37-7 loss at Arizona State on Sept. 22, they also have had plenty of time to regroup and prepare for one of the biggest home games in the program's history. Utah already has one victory against a Top 25 opponent, beating then-No. 25 BYU 24-21 on Sept. 15.
"It's absolutely essential that we respond," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told the school's official website. "We are probably playing the most talented team in the conference in USC. We find out what we're made of this week and what kind of resiliency we have."
The challenge facing Utah looms even larger after it allowed Arizona State to amass 512 yards, including 372 in the air. The Utes rank 50th in the nation giving up 218.5 passing yards per game.
This contest might provide the opportunity for star USC receiver Robert Woods to finally break out. After catching 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011, Woods has caught 25 for 203 yards with four TDs through four games. He has nine receptions for 68 yards and no TDs in the last two.
Teammate Marqise Lee has not been overlooked while recording 457 yards and six touchdowns on 40 catches.
"(Woods') plays will come," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
Woods caught eight passes for 102 yards against the Utes last season.
The Trojans also hope to continue their success on the ground after Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal combined for 273 yards on 31 carries against Cal. A transfer from Penn State, Redd has rushed 58 times for 338 yards and four TDs for his new school.
"If defenses are going to stay back, play a cover-2 shell and force us to run, that's what we've got to do," said Barkley, who threw for 264 yards with a touchdown and an interception against Utah in 2011.
After holding the Golden Bears to 250 total yards, the Trojans could be in for another stout defensive performance against a Utah squad which ranks 112th in the country averaging 198.3 total yards. The Utes - still adjusting to quarterback Jon Hays following the career-ending shoulder injury to Jordan Wynn on Sept. 7 - have been held to 454 over the last two games, including 209 against the Sun Devils. Utah managed nine total yards in the fourth quarter of that game.
It's averaged 79.0 rushing yards while losing two of three following a 41-0 season-opening win versus FCS opponent Northern Colorado, when it ran for 193 yards.
Senior John White ran 24 times for 119 yards in the opener but has totaled 114 on 41 carries in his last two games. He had 56 yards and a touchdown on 20 rushes against the Trojans in 2011.