Saturday, November 21, 2020 at 10:30pm EST
No. 20 USC will get to the halfway point of its six-game regular season on Saturday night. Its opponent, Utah, will be playing its first game of the year. The Trojans have picked up close wins against Arizona State and Arizona to open the year, while the Utes have had their games against Arizona and UCLA canceled due to COVID-19.
Trojans coming off pair of close winsNo. 20 USC has not come close to covering the spread as a double-digit favorite in either of its first two games, but it has found a way to win both contests. The Trojans were down 27-14 early in the fourth quarter of their season-opener against Arizona State, but they rattled off consecutive touchdowns in the final three minutes of the game to steal the win. They trailed Arizona by three points with 1:35 left last week before scoring the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds to play. USC will likely need a more complete effort this week, as Utah is expected to be one of the better teams in the conference.
Sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis has picked up where he left off last year. He completed 71.9 percent of his passes a season ago and is completing 71.4 percent of them so far this season. Slovis has thrown three touchdowns and one interception. His top target in the passing game has been junior wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who has caught 14 passes for 213 yards. Drake London has added 12 receptions for 193 yards and a touchdown, while Tyler Vaughns has 14 catches for 123 yards. The running back duo of Markese Stepp and Stephen Carr has combined for 260 yards and four touchdowns through two games. They are averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
Inexperienced Utah team eager to get startedUtah is seeking a third straight Pac-12 South title this season, but that is going to be tough to achieve after having its first two games canceled. Head coach Kyle Whittingham is having to send out nine new starters on defense, including all five spots in the secondary. He will also be replacing his starting quarterback and top running back from 2019. Zack Moss turned into one of the best backs in the conference, so replacing him will not be an easy task. There are four different running backs in the mix for playing time. Devin Brumfield Jr. and Jordan Wilmore are expected to get most of the reps on Saturday night.
Whittingham has still not announced who the starting quarterback is going to be, leaving three different names in the hat. Jake Bentley, a senior grad transfer from South Carolina, was thought to be the frontrunner by many experts. He is seventh among active FBS quarterbacks in career starts. Redshirt sophomore Cam Rising started his career at Texas before transferring to Utah last season. The other option would be senior Drew Lisk, who began his career as a walk on before earning a scholarship in 2018. He completed 7 of 9 passes for 52 yards last year. Junior tight end Brant Kuithe should be a top target for whoever starts at quarterback. He led the team with 34 receptions for 602 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Stats & Trends
- 4-1-1 ATS in its last six games after an ATS loss
- 4-1 ATS in its last five games after allowing fewer than 170 passing yards in its previous game
- 4-1 ATS in its last five games after allowing more than 200 rushing yards in its previous game
- 1-3-1 ATS in its last five games as a home underdog
Utah opened as a small favorite in this game, but the money has come in on USC. I think that has been the right move, as the Utes have a ton of question marks coming into this game. They are replacing the top two positions on offense and almost every piece on defense. The Trojans have found a way to win two close games, which should give them some confidence heading into this one. Slovis is a solid quarterback who will be able to take advantage of an inexperienced Utah secondary.