• John Skinner

Inside dirt heading into Utah

Tune out the early chatter about the AD search and coaching rumors- One of negative side effects with letting Lynn Swann go so early in the season is the speculation about his predecessor and who would then be hired as the next football coach, especially coming off the loss to BYU. The perfect storm has hit with Urban Meyer part of the Fox pre-game coverage at the Coliseum tonight. It is unfortunate a fervor has developed among the fan base about the next AD and when is “Clay” going to be out as opposed to a great opportunity to defeat a top 10 Utah team. This mentality and lack of support is petty and doesn’t help team morale. These are college athletes, not professionals.

In the grand scheme of things, any successful athletic administrator will tell you it is better to have a solid season ahead of a potential change, then for it to completely tailspin, which will negatively impact recruiting and program morale. Typically new administrators bring in their own people and should a new coach be hired, you want that coming off an 8-4/9-3 season opposed to back to back 5-7 seasons as you head into the 2020 season opener against Alabama. Whether you care for Helton or not, support the program.

Chatter Part II- Even if Utah dismantles the Trojans tonight, unfounded rumors from “sources within USC’s administration” that Helton will be let go this weekend are exactly that…unfounded and “click-bait”.

Worth the read- Check out this open letter to Dr. Carol Folt from the dean of Pac-12 writers Jon Wilner. He speaks about the extreme importance of hiring the right person as it would not only benefit USC but the Pac-12 with a new media rights deal on the horizon.

Trojans defense has to convert better when penetrating the line of scrimmage- The Trojans are doing a solid job of creating pressure (some regression in BYU game) but through missed tackles and over-pursuit, they have squandered opportunities with some leading to big gains for the offense. When they aren’t able to impede/sack the QB in a timely manner, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s aggressive approach leaves the inexperienced secondary on an island, allowing 11 passes of 20 yards or more this season, ranking 88th nationally and have given up six passes of 30-plus yards, tied for 104th nationally. This trend has to stop with Utah QB Tyler Huntley ranking 4th in the nation in completion percentage (77.8) and 5th in 11 yards per completion attempt while also being an effective scrambler. Huntley threw for 341 yards and four TD’s in Utah’s destruction of the Trojans in Salt Lake City last year.

Trojans struggling against runs outside the tackles- In just three games, the Trojans have given up 270 rushing yards on runs outside the tackles. That’s the most yardage allowed on such runs in the Pac-12, and the second-most among Power 5 programs, behind only Georgia Tech.

Utah Offense Part II- Utah clearly provides the stiffest challenge the Trojans have faced this year. Besides Huntley, the Utah offensive line is a veteran group that has yet to give up a sack this year and stud running back Zach Moss is for eight nationally in both rushing yards (124) and rushing scores (4).

On the flip side- Utah offense Part III- BYU gave Utah a good game until two late interceptions returned for touchdowns sealed their fate in a 30-12 loss. Frankly, the Utah offense wasn’t that impressive against BYU and their other two victories were against low-lever competition (Northern Illinois and Idaho State). The impressive efficiency of Utah’s offensive stats are a bit deceiving. If the Trojans can pressure Huntley (which they couldn’t do last year), he is prone to force throws and susceptible of beings stripped of the ball. Back to the BYU game comparison- The Trojans scored 27 points and were a play or two from winning the BYU game despite three turnovers while Utah received three turnovers from BYU and only scored 14 offensive points.

The Utes- Defensively Speaking- Besides being the best offensive team the Trojans have faced, Utah will also be the best defensive team as well. Utah only gave up 104 yards on 18 plays in the second half of their victory over BYU. Utah senior defensive end Bradlee Anae ranks 7th in the nation with three sacks and was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last year. The middle of the line (where SC really struggled against BYU) has quite the tandem in returning starters John Penisini (6’2/320 pounds) and Leki Fatu (6’5/330 pounds). The Utes possess a solid defensive backfield with four interceptions on the season with two being returned for touchdowns. However, they have yet to truly be tested and should they stick with their tendency to go man-to-man, the Trojans receivers should have a distinct advantage, if Slovis has time to throw the ball.

Quick history lesson- What happened the last time a top 10 Utah team came to the Coliseum?: On October 24, 2015, Utah was ranked #3 and the Trojans were unranked coming off a non-conference loss. The result- USC thumped the Utes 42-24.

Extensive Game Preview- Here is a link to Tom Haire’s extensive game preview and podcast via uscfootball.com.

Return of Christian Rector will be key- The Trojans definitely felt the impact of not having a healthy Christian Rector against BYU. Not only is he a team leader and one of the team’s best defensive lineman, but he’s been a great mentor on the field for true freshman phenom Drake Jackson, who had his fair share of struggles against the Cougars. Rector is practicing this week and appears close to 100% after injuring his ankle against Stanford.

Lack of diversity in the running game- The Air-Raid does not offer a lot of wrinkles when it comes to the run game so when a defenses drops 8 into coverage and dares you to run, if the offensive line struggles, it is easier for a defense to key on the running game due to the limited amount or running plays. Expect the Trojans to make some adjustments to get their talented backs the ball outside of the tackles. It is concerning the Trojans only averaged 3.8 yards per carry against a BYU defense giving up an average of 250 yards in the prior two games.

Slovis shows maturity of a leader in loss- Despite throwing three costly interceptions in the Trojans overtime loss to BYU, true freshman Kedon Slovis did a great job of handling the criticism of his performance and being forthright with where improvement needs to be made. He handled the media maturely, confidently and with an even keel flare…key things you want to see from your quarterback.

Injury report- Redshirt freshman corner Isaac Taylor-Stuart is likely out with a concussion but starting Nickelback Greg Johnson has been cleared from concussion protocol and freshman corner Max Williams will be available for the first time this year after coming off a knee injury. Look for true freshman Chris Steele to start in the place of Stuary…Steele played well in his 22 snaps last week vs. BYU. Starting WR Amon-Ra St. Brown missed practice with a “foot” ailment earlier this week but is expected to play.

Betting Guide- Utah is a -4 point favorite with an over/under of 53. Utah is 8-1 and 7-2 ATS in its last nine September road games. The total has gone over in Utah’s last four games against the SC. The Trojans are 2-11 against the spread as an underdog under head coach Clay Helton. There have been 553 college football coaches who have been an underdog at least 10 times over the past 40 years and Clay Helton’s 15.4% cover rate is last among those coaches.

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-Bits-

*Strong rumors persist that #1 QB prospect Bryce Young will de-commit from the Trojans and choose Alabama who has former SC head coach Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator.

*A starting wide-out voiced strong criticism of the offensive game plan during and after the BYU game toward coaches and players.

*JT Daniels mentorship of Slovis was missed on the sidelines of the BYU game and due to his surgery on Wednesday to repairs his torn ACL, he won’t be with the team for a few more weeks.

*USC’s offense is averaging 34.3 points per game so far, which is 8.2 points more than the 26.1 the Trojans averaged last season. They also rank 20th in the nation in passing offense at 310 per game.

*Opponents are converting 37.2 percent of their third downs against the Trojans, which ranks 72nd in the nation while also surrendering 66 first downs, which is tied for 100th.

*Through two and a half games, Slovis is completing 77.3 percent of his passes, which is fifth nationally. He has thrown for 715 yards and five touchdowns with an average of 9.5 yards per attempt. Through three games as a true freshman starter last season, Daniels’ stat line through the air was 67 of 117 for 819 yards (7.0 yards per attempt) with one touchdown and three interceptions.

*Utah has never won in the Coliseum.