Utah Football Seeks Critical Pac-12 Victory at USC


Jonathan Wang

Sophomore quarterback Cameron Rising getting ready to hand off the football to junior running back TJ Pledger against Washington State football at the Rice-Eccles Stadium on Sept. 25, 2021. (Photo by Jonathan Wang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Cole Bagley, Sports Editor


Following a much needed bye-week, the University of Utah football team faces their greatest test up to this point in the season as they’ll travel to California to take on South-Division foe, USC.

As of now, the Utes currently find themselves in second place in the division, and a win against the Trojans would not only give them a nice undefeated conference record, but would also set them up to take command of first place against ASU the following week.

With that being said, Utah will need to play their best game as they not only look to secure a comfortable position in the South, but seek their first victory at USC since 1916.

Scouting the Utes

Ranking: N/A

Record: (2-2, 1-0 Pac-12)

Last Week: W vs Washington State, 24-13

Uniform Combo: White helmet with interlocking U’s, white throwback jersey, white pants

In their last game, the Utes finally bounced back with a victory over Washington State after two disappointing losses. While the first half was more than forgettable and Utah struggled to hang onto the football, putting it on the ground seven times for three turnovers, the defense continuously stepped up all day long and fueled the Utes to a 24-13 victory.

After an impressive late performance by Cameron Rising against the Aztecs, the passing game yet again struggled against the Cougars. For the day, the sophomore quarterback finished just 13-23 (56%) for 137 yards. Despite his struggles to throw the football, Rising did make an impact on the ground as he rushed for 32 yards on five attempts (6.4 average). However, other than that, the passing game didn’t make much of a difference and Rising had somewhat of a forgettable afternoon.

Freshman Ja’Quinden Jackson made his first appearance as a Utah Man, taking several snaps under center in the red zone. While he would commit one of Utah’s turnovers, he also found the end zone for the Utes’ first score of the day on a keeper up the middle.

As for the receiving room, they too struggled, as the offense was unable to attack through the air. Notably, tight end Cole Fotheringham led all receivers with 33 yards on three receptions.

In regards to the running backs, T.J. Pledger was a godsend as the rest of the room only totaled 27 yards on 10 carries against the Cougars. As for Pledger, he had himself a day, recording 117 yards and a critical go-ahead touchdown on 10 individual carries.

Defensively, the Utes had their best game of the season, only allowing 318 total yards on 75 plays (4.2 yards per play). While the offense continuously coughed up the ball to the Cougars in excellent field position, the defense stopped them nearly every time as they only allowed 13 total points in what could’ve been a blowout by Washington State.

Freshman Clark Phillips arguably made the biggest play of the game as he intercepted Jarrett Guarantano and proceeded to take the ball back 54-yards for a touchdown. This couldn’t have come at a better time as it sealed the outcome and left the Cougars without enough time to make a comeback.

Utes to Watch

Cameron Rising and the Receivers

In USC’s two losses this season, they’ve been absolutely torched through the air, giving up a combined 447 yards and six touchdowns. If Utah is to have any offensive success against the Trojans, they’ve got to do their best to replicate the late minutes against SDSU where Rising went 19-32 (59%) for 153 yards and two touchdowns.

The Secondary

This will be the secondary’s greatest test thus far as they face an offense that has thrived when attacking through the air. Through five games, quarterback Kedon Slovis has thrown for 1,118 yards and seven touchdowns. Impressively, that includes only eight yards against Washington State as he left the game early with injury.

Hear it From Coach

“The message is we’ve got to prepare and have a great week of practice, just like it takes to win any ballgame,” Head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “You’ve got to do your work Monday through Friday, and that’s our challenge. [We] had a terrific week of practice during the Washington State week. That was our best week of practice and preparation of the whole year. I think it showed, although we put the ball on the ground a bunch of times. For the most part, particularly on defense, it showed. Our guys know what it takes to win at this level. It’s very challenging, and it’s all-encompassing. You’ve got to do things right all week long: eat, sleep, hydrate, practice, lift, study film — there’s so much to the process. They get that, they understand that. There really is no way around that, regardless of circumstances.”

Scouting the Trojans

Ranking: N/A

Record: (3-2, 2-2 Pac-12)

Last Week: W vs Colorado, 37-14

USC has also experienced somewhat of a disappointing season as the Trojans find themselves at 3-2 with already two losses in the conference. However, in their latest contest, USC bounced back in commanding fashion with a 37-14 victory over Colorado.

Slovis was out there doing what he does best as the seasoned quarterback went 19-29 (65%) for 276 yards and three touchdowns. Additionally, Slovis didn’t throw a single interception despite nearly 30 pass attempts. 

As for his favorite target, Drake London could not be contained as the receiver recorded 130 yards and a touchdown against the Buffaloes.

In regards to the run-game, the Trojans also saw success on the ground as the room finished with 218 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries (6.2 average). Notably, Keaontay Ingram led the backs with 124 yards on 14 carries (8.9 average).

Defensively, this wasn’t much of a challenge for USC as the Buffaloes only posted 242 total yards on 56 plays (4.3 average). For the day, linebacker Kana’i Mauga led the team with eight total tackles, seven of which were solo.

Trojans to Watch

Kedon Slovis

As previously mentioned, this USC team likes to pass the football and the Utah secondary will be greatly tested as they face Slovis and his arsenal of receivers. Through the four full games he has played, Slovis is averaging 277 yards and 1.75 touchdowns. Simply put, the secondary has their work cut out for them and they need to show up more than anybody on the Utah roster.

Drake London

Next to Slovis, London had better be circled on the depth chart as the junior receiver has recorded 670 yards and four touchdowns on 48 receptions. This is an elite offensive machine with NFL-potential and he could very well torch the Utes if they aren’t careful.

How to Watch

This week’s game will be televised on Fox with kickoff set for 6 p.m. MDT. Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman will be the TV crew on the game. Additionally, Fans can also listen to the game on the Home of the Utes, ESPN700 with Bill Riley, Stevenson Sylvester and Scott Mitchell on the call.  


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