USC Trojans (1-2 SU, 1-2 ATS) vs. Utah Utes (3-0 SU, 1-2 ATS)
College Football Week 4
Date/Time: Friday, September 23. 2016 at 9PM EST
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: Fox Sports 1
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USC +3/UTAH -3
Over/Under Total: 47
The Southern Cal Trojans make the trip to Salt Lake City for a Pac-12 matchup with the unbeaten Utah Utes in a Friday night matchup. The Utes beat San Jose on the road on Saturday, 34-17, to go to 3-0, as they now enter their conference schedule. USC began its conference schedule on Saturday in a tough road spot against the defending Pac-12 champion Stanford Cardinal, losing 27-10. USC is now 1-2, with both losses being of the non-competitive variety. Can they find something to derail Utah? After all, they did it to a highly-ranked 6-0 Utah team last season. The Utes are looking to avoid the mistakes that led to that defeat, with this one being at home.
Utah beat an FCS in-state opponent with a 24-0 shutout win over Southern Utah to open the 2016 season. They scored a one-point win over BYU, overcoming six turnovers and forcing a potential game-winning two-point conversion in the final moment to fail, beating BYU, 20-19, in week two. Things were a little more routine against a plucky San Jose State team on Saturday. The home team held firm for about a quarter-and-a-half, before Utah took the upper-hand and cruised home with the win. This is where Utah looks to up the ante with conference play getting underway.
Washington transfer Troy Williams is the Utah starting quarterback. He’s had his bumps in the first few weeks, with 3 picks against BYU and another on Saturday. His talent is an asset at the position and the Utah offense looks to be letting it fly a little more, while also relying on the run-game and, of course, a solid defense. They were close to 500 total yards on Saturday, a number they didn’t approach much last season. On Saturday, Armand Shyne and Zack Moss were both close to 100 yards with TD runs. Troy McCormick added a TD run. Williams was adept at spreading the ball around to different receivers. Tim Patrick caught 6 balls for 121 yards and a touchdown. Cory Butler-Byrd caught 6 balls. We’ll see what other weapons develop and how adept Williams is at getting the ball in the right hands.
The real reason the San Jose State offense was stopped in its tracks on Saturday was the Utah defense. With ten sacks, they equaled a team record. If the front continues playing like that, they’ll let the secondary make plays, which is what they’ve been doing this season. They had two picks and three turnovers on Saturday. Will they be able to apply similar heat to USC? Perhaps not to the same degree, but with USC’s quarterback situation already in a state of some peril, the same kind of pressure could really pay off on Saturday.
USC was able to upend the 6-0 Utes last season and they did it convincingly, 42-24. A few things could change and make the game go a different way. Granted Williams has shown a troubling flair for the pick this season, but USC cashed in on a gravy train of turnovers in that game last season and might not get that perk this time around. In addition, USC has struggled to get their offense uncorked. If Utah’s defense can play well again, it could be a another stagnant day for the Trojans’ offense.
Last season, Cody Kessler was a big part of the win and the play at QB looks to have deteriorated with Max Browne in there starting, with freshman Sam Darnold making the occasional appearance. Darnold threw a pick on Saturday, while Browne was under 200 yards for the third time in a row in his first three starts. Apparently, they've seen enough of Browne as the Freshman Darnold gets the start in this one.
The run game of Justin Davis and Ronald Jones hasn’t been very impactful. JuJu Smith-Schuster has been quiet. It just doesn’t look like a typical USC offense. Against Alabama and Stanford, they scored a total of one touchdown. The issue is perhaps being simplified to say it’s a QB problem. They certainly didn’t catch any breaks with the Tide and Cardinal being front-loaded into the schedule when a quarterback is trying to warm to the task. After losing on the road to the top-ranked team in the country and the defending conference champ, they’ll perhaps find Utah more to their liking, though this one is coming on the road, as well.
The USC defense gave up 52 to ‘Bama in week one, before allowing 7 to Utah State and a reasonable 27 to a home Stanford team on Saturday. They were chewed up to some degree by Christian McCaffrey, who had another big day across all areas. Other than giving up a big day to McCaffrey, something most teams do, they were actually pretty stout. Stanford QB Ryan Burns struggled for most of the day. The “D” didn’t get a ton of support from the other side of the ball, but they still managed to hang tough. That run-defense, however, hasn’t been too sharp and that could cost them against Utah. New coordinator Clancy Pendergrast has renewed a more-attacking type of defense, but also one that is easier to exploit when they overdo it. Still, the last two weeks were positive developments for a “D” that looked bad to start the season.
Utah is almost always underrated. They’re very well-coached and get the most out of what they have, which is sort of a skill in itself. They’re just a dependable and solid team that knows how to manufacture wins. They have a good playmaking and stout defense, while issuing a big dose of the ground-game on the other side of the ball. Those are not the types of teams that get a lot of overall attention. But could USC, an almost perennially-overrated team, actually be underrated heading into week 4? Teams that play ‘Bama and Stanford can look worse than they really are. They beat this team before and a win here would really lend a lot of wind into their sails as they get into the rest of their schedule. But without the prolific offense, it might be a grind—something that favors the more steadfast and reliable Utes.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Utah Utes minus 3 points.
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