Week 9: USC at Utah

    USC (5-2) at Utah (5-1) Oct. 25, 10:00, Fox Sports 1 Here’s The Deal: The game of the week in the Pac-12 is going to have a particularly profound impact

    October 24, 2014

    USC (5-2) at Utah (5-1) Oct. 25, 10:00, Fox Sports 1 

    Here’s The Deal: The game of the week in the Pac-12 is going to have a particularly profound impact on the tight race in the South Division. 

    Both USC and Utah have five wins, one league loss and a spot within the Top 25. The victor in Salt Lake City will pass a critical midseason test, while the loser will be forced to play catch-up in November. The Trojans have recovered from their Hail Mary loss to Arizona State on Oct. 4 to defeat Arizona and Colorado on consecutive Saturdays. They enjoyed a rare rout last week behind a school-record seven Cody Kessler touchdown passes. The Utes have rebounded even more convincingly from a jarring Sept. 27 loss to Washington State by defeating UCLA and Oregon State … on the road. They return to Rice-Eccles Stadium as conquering heroes, with a “Blackout” serving as added motivation. 

    Why USC Might Win: These two squads are very similar—quality workhorse backs, stout defenders and clutch special teamers. The big difference for the Trojans is at quarterback. Okay, so seven touchdown passes is not a typical Kessler performance, but he’s thrown 18 scoring strikes to just one pick through seven games. And Nelson Agholor and rookie JuJu Smith are field-stretchers on the outside. Utah, meanwhile, has juggled between quarterbacks Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson, with neither maximizing the big-play ability of WR Dres Anderson. 

    Why Utah Might Win: Kessler has been outstanding, but how will he operate with black jerseys in his face at all times? The Utes lead the nation with 33 sacks, despite playing at least one game less than the nearest competition. They revel in bringing the heat from all directions, with ends Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick and LB Jared Norris serving as the sparkplugs. Since Utah is able to get such a good push at the point of attack, it leads the Pac-12 in yards allowed per rush, and ranks fourth in pass efficiency defense. 

    Who To Watch Out For: Whoever runs the ball better on Saturday night is going to cop a very important victory. Both teams boast terrific feature backs, USC’s Javorius Allen and Utah’s Devontae Booker, the Pac-12’s top two backs, respectively. Allen has been held under 100 yards just once all season, back on Sept. 13. Booker has carried the Ute offense with 563 yards and five scores in just the last three games. Both juniors will run as if there’s a ton at stake, because there is a ton at stake, for their teams and their individual futures. 

    What’s Going To Happen: The atmosphere in Salt Lake City will be electric. And Utah is poised to feed off it. There’s not much separating the Utes and the Trojans, which is why home-field advantage will be such a critical component of this week’s showdown. In a rare Pac-12 game dictated by units other than the offenses, Utah PK Andy Phillips and return man extraordinaire Kaelin Clay will help guide the team to its biggest win since joining the conference in 2011. 

    Prediction: Utah 27 … USC 26 
    Line: USC -1 o/u: 56 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 4 

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