Football faces Utah Saturday

Junior inside linebacker Ralen Goforth celebrated a key play during a game.
Junior inside linebacker Ralen Goforth celebrates after a play against Oregon State. Goforth has been a key starter this season. (Peter Gastis | Daily Trojan)

Two hundred and sixty four days. That’s how long it has been since USC has won a Pac-12 home game — the last time being Dec. 6 against Washington State.

The game feels like a distant memory for the Trojans. USC though will look to end its home losing streak and get back-to-back wins for the first time this season as it welcomes Utah to the Coliseum. 

For USC, inconsistency has been the only consistency this season. The Trojans have experienced the highs of winning their last two road games by a combined 54 points, along with the lows of losing their last two home games by a combined 29 points. 

Interim Head Coach Donte Williams spoke about what he wants the team to carry over to find consistency. 

“Controlling the line of scrimmage,” said Williams after practice Tuesday. “Let’s have an energetic sideline and let’s be energetic on the field. I want that to carry over not just for the next game but the rest of the season.”

Controlling the line of scrimmage was key in USC’s win over Colorado last week. Senior running back Keaontay Ingram had the first 100- yard rushing game for USC since December 2020. 

At practice this week, Offensive Coordinator Graham Harrell spoke about how Ingram seems to be coming into his own these past couple of weeks. 

“I think he’s just getting back to health and getting back to what we saw before he tweaked the hamstring,” Harrell said. “That’s big for us. The more guys we have that are good with the ball in their hands that’s good for us.” 

One of those guys is junior wide receiver Drake London. The Biletnikoff Award front-runner is second in the nation with 48 receptions and 670 receiving yards and made a one-hand touchdown snag last week. 

For London, the catch was not too much of a surprise.

“At that moment I was surprised,” London said. “But looking back at it, I made a couple plays at practice like that before. I don’t think it’s as much of a surprise now as it was.” 

London and the offense will be taking on a young secondary this week against Utah. The Utes have two freshman corners on the outside with Faybian Marks and Clark Phillips III. 

Phillips III is a former Ohio State commit and the highest ranked Utah commit in program history. London and Phillips III will be a matchup to watch on the outside. 

The Utes are coming off a 24-13 win two weeks ago against Washington State. Utah found success running the ball with former Oklahoma Sooner and Southern California-native junior running back TJ Pledger. 

Pledger came in the second half after freshman starting running back Micah Bernard went out with an upper body injury. Pledger had over 100 yards and one touchdown on nearly 12 yards a carry. The Trojans will need to stymie the run game and control the former Mission League Offensive player of the year.

Like every team USC has played this season, there’s been some quarterback shuffling with sophomore Cameron Rising making his first start against the Cougars since USC in November 2020. 

Williams believes the week off gives Rising that extra time to settle into the offense.

“Their guys will be fresh, that’s the biggest challenge,” Williams said. “At the same time they pretty much settled in on their quarterback. He’s had two weeks to prepare for us.” 

Hanging on to the ball was a major problem for the Utes against Washington State, fumbling seven times despite the win. The Trojans defense has forced four fumbles so far. 

Keeping flags off the field is the biggest obstacle at home for the Trojans. In the Trojans’ two home games under Williams, they have committed a combined 23 penalties for 223 yards. 

After practice on Tuesday, Williams had everyone who was on Howard Jones Field run 12 sprints for the 12 penalties last week. This included Associate Athletic Director Brandon Sousa. It’ll be interesting to see if this discipline at practice can translate Saturday night. 

Utah is coming into this week with time off. The Utes spent the bye watching the Trojans, but it was with heavy hearts. 

The Utah community tragically lost sophomore cornerback Aaron Lowe as he was shot and killed at a house party after the Washington State game two weeks ago. 

Head Coach Kyle Whittingham spoke about how challenging the last two weeks have been for the team after the loss of a teammate. 

“Extremely difficult to say the least,” Whittingham said. “Fortunately, we had a bye week last week to regroup … and come to terms with the tragedy. It’s challenging.” 

Lowe had changed his number from two to 22 in the offseason and was the first recipient of the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship. Jordan, who wore the number 22, was last year’s Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year for Utah and tragically lost his life last Christmas just a week after the season.

Utah comes into town looking for its first win at the Coliseum since 1916. The Utes have lost the last two matchups in Los Angeles by an average of just 4 points. 

For Williams and the team, the key to ending the home conference losing streak and taking down a rested Utah team will be staying aggressive for the entire 60 minutes. 

“We have to stay hungry, we have to be locked in the whole time,” Williams said. “You have to get on edge and stay on edge.” 

Kickoff is Saturday at 5 p.m.