No. 14 Utah visits Los Angeles on Saturday night seeking its fourth straight win over No. 18 Southern California in Pac-12 Conference action.
Utah (5-1, 2-1) handed USC its only loss of the 2022 regular season — a 43-42 nail-biter in Salt Lake City — then denied the Trojans both a conference title and possible berth in the College Football Playoff with a 47-24 rout in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Throughout the 2023 season, the Utes have been without a star from both of those games, however. Quarterback Cameron Rising continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in January’s Rose Bowl loss to Penn State.
“It’s a situation where we’re just waiting, week after week, for a thumbs-up,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in his Monday press conference of both Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe, who also has yet to play this season.
Rising threw for a combined 725 yards and five touchdowns in the two wins against the Trojans last season.
In Utah’s most recent game, a 34-14 victory last Saturday against Cal, Bryson Barnes put up modest passing stats –15 of 21 for 128 yards — to improve his overall numbers this season to 38 of 66 for 398 yards and one touchdown, with two interceptions. His 50 yards rushing on eight carries with a touchdown contributed to a 317-yard onslaught for Utah on the ground, however, with Sione Vaki’s 158 yards and two scores leading the way.
The Utah defense held an opponent to 14 or fewer points for the fifth time this season, all wins.
Southern Cal (6-1, 4-0) has been a mirror-opposite of Utah, with one of the nation’s most prolific offenses at 47.3 points per game but a defense that has given up an average of 30 points per contest.
The Trojans gave up at least 41 points in each of their last three games. One of those, a 43-41 defeat of Arizona on Oct. 7, went to three overtimes. Last week, though, USC surrendered a season-high 48 points while scoring just 20 points in a blowout loss at Notre Dame.
“The Notre Dame game is very applicable,” Whittingham said of referencing how the Fighting Irish slowed the Trojans’ offense last week in preparation for Saturday. “We’ll also go back and look at our two games last year. We do as much research and homework as you can.”
Notre Dame forced Southern Cal into five turnovers, including picking off reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams three times in the first half.
After throwing just five interceptions in 14 games a season ago, Williams has thrown four this season. The Utes have intercepted seven passes this season.
“Especially against good teams and good defenses like we faced last week, and like we’re getting ready to face again this week, you’ve got to have all 11 (players) clicking,” Trojans coach Lincoln Riley said on his radio show on Monday night. “And when we do, we can play. But we’ve got to do it more often.”
–Field Level Media