USC will get another chance to impress on a national stage this week as it gears up for its Thursday matchup against Utah in Salt Lake City. The last time the Trojans were under the national spotlight was two weeks ago in Palo Alto, Calif. when they were upset by Stanford. Now, coming off a victory over California and a bye week, the team is ready for the next challenge.
“The players are ready to play again after having some extra time off,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “We’re excited for what I think will be a very entertaining game. That place will be rocking as we go in there, and it will be a good test for us.”
Rice-Eccles Stadium is expecting a sellout crowd in what Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said before the season would be one of the biggest games in the school’s history. Utah’s various media outlets echoed this sentiment at Pac-12 Media Day in July.
A lackluster start for Utah, however, has seemingly quelled such rhetoric. After winning their season opener against Northern Colorado in decisive fashion, the Utes faltered in their second game against rival Utah State, losing 27-20 in overtime.
In the loss, senior quarterback Jordan Wynn also suffered a season- and career-ending shoulder injury. Injuries to Utah’s star running back John White and members of its offensive line have rendered the offense inconsistent, as evidenced by the team’s 37-7 loss to Arizona State last week.
Still, regardless of what the Utes have done this season, Kiffin expects a different showing from their offense on Thursday night.
“They’re replacing a lot of linemen, just like us,” Kiffin said. “I anticipate them being at full strength after having some time off, just like us. I think White will be ready to go.”
In last season’s meeting, the Trojans’ defense held White to just 56 rushing yards on 20 carries — a far cry from his 2011 season average of 116 yards per game.
The star for Utah in last year’s meeting was receiver Devante Christopher, who had 11 catches for 136 yards. Even with new quarterback Jon Hays, who has a 6-3 career starting record, the USC secondary will face challenges against the Utes’ passing attack, particularly at the second cornerback spot opposite junior Nickell Robey.
“We need to play better at the other spot and force them to throw at [Robey],” Kiffin said. “Right now, nobody’s throwing at him.”
Kiffin hopes another defender will emerge opposite Robey so that the lockdown corner can have more opportunities to make plays on the ball and get turnovers.
“There’s no secret. We haven’t played well there all year,” Kiffin said in reference to the second cornerback spot. “It’s unfortunate for Nickell, because the ball is always going the other way. We have to be more consistent in tackling and in press coverage.”