On the other sideline: Five questions with The Daily Trojan


Percy Anderson

— Courtesy of Percy Anderson

— Courtesy of Percy Anderson
— Courtesy of Percy Anderson

Utah and USC are set to clash in a top-25 matchup at Rice-Eccles Saturday night. In preparation for the contest, The Daily Utah Chronicle caught up with the Daily Trojan to get the lowdown on No. 20 USC.

Q: Utah has relied on its defense, and specifically its front seven to keep them in games. How good is the USC offensive line? Do you think they will be able to withstand the Utes’ pass rush?

A: To be honest, I’m a little worried about USC’s offensive line’s ability to stave off Utah’s front seven. The team made history this season by starting two freshman offensive linemen in their home opener, and these [Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivao] have continued to start for the Trojans. They’ve performed well along with the rest of the offensive line, giving up 16 sacks this season.

While they’re not the most impressive unit on the team, head coach Steve Sarkisian called this unit the most improved, and will certainly have prepared for Utah’s strong front seven all week.

Q: What was the key to Cody Kessler’s seven touchdown performance against Colorado? Can this be duplicated? Do you think the Trojans will rely more on the run or the pass on Saturday?

A: The key was Kessler deciding to trust his receivers in one-on-one situations. Too often this season, Kessler has decided to check down rather than hitting his wide open receivers down the field, but all last week, Sarkisian emphasized his desire to execute more explosive plays per game.

Obviously it’s an outstanding feat that might not be replicated for decades, but Kessler insists he’ll continue to trust his guys to make plays. That being said, Sarkisian has stressed from the beginning that the Trojans are a run-first team, so you can expect to see a lot from Buck Allen and Justin Davis on Saturday.

Q: What is the key to stopping USC’s balanced offensive attack?

A: It’s got to be shutting down Buck Allen. The redshirt junior is the only player in the nation with more than 900 rushing yards and 250 receiving yards, and just posted his sixth 100-plus rushing game of the season. In the Trojans’ most embarrassing loss of the season at Boston College, the Tallahassee, Flo. native was held to just 31 rushing yards and Sarkisian seemed flustered and unwilling to give up on the ground and let Kessler take over the game.

Sarkisian appears to have learned his lesson, but if Utah shuts down the run game, the Trojans might get flustered and fall apart.

Q: What is the biggest weakness of the Trojan defense? Do you think Utah will still be able to run the ball with Devontae Booker if Travis Wilson and/or Kendal Thompson struggles to throw?

A: Different games have exposed different deficiencies in USC’s defense, so it’s tough to say. Against Stanford earlier this year, the Trojans appeared to not want to defend the pass at all, leaving Cardinal receivers open all day. The same could be said about USC’s game against Arizona State, when Mike Bercovici put up 510 pass yards against the Trojan secondary. Against Boston College, though, it was USC’s run defense that fell through, allowing a whopping 452 rushing yards.

Both aspects of USC’s defense looked much improved in the blowout win over Colorado, but we never know which Trojan team is going to step on the field.

Q: What does USC have to do to get a win Saturday?

A: USC has got to stay focused in Rice-Eccles Stadium. The raucous atmosphere at Boston College threw the Trojans off their game, but USC showed impressive composure playing at Arizona, so it appears that the team has matured in pressure situations.

Sarkisian has been focusing on specific things like Kessler trusting his receivers and running back Justin Davis not turning the ball over, and insists that the time he has spent on these little details will yield results. If what he says holds true, USC has a good chance to come out on top of what I’m sure will be an intense Pac-12 South matchup.

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