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    No. 18 USC vs. No. 14 Utah: Who has the edge?
    • October 20, 2023

    No. 14 Utah (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) at No. 18 USC (6-1, 4-0)

    When: 5 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

    TV/Radio: FOX/790 AM

    Line: USC by 7

    Notable injuries: Utah: OUT: TE Thomas Yassmin (surgery, undisclosed); WR Mycah Pittman (undisclosed); DE Logan Fano (knee); RB Micah Bernard (undisclosed); DOUBTFUL: QB Cameron Rising (knee), TE Brant Kuithe (knee). USC: QUESTIONABLE: S Max Williams (undisclosed), S Bryson Shaw (undisclosed), CB Jacobe Covington (undisclosed).

    What’s at stake: Not to be dramatic, but entire seasons rest on Saturday’s game. No two-loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff, and it would be a Steph-Curry-range longshot for Utah to make it given the continued absence of Rising, but a loss also significantly weakens Utah’s Pac-12 chances in a loaded conference. USC, meanwhile, is coming off a truly deflating performance against Notre Dame, and Saturday brings a chance to show they’re both bark and bite against a gritty Utes front. If the Trojans falter, again, ever-growing national fury will reach a fever pitch.

    There’s also a measure of revenge here, too, against a Utah team that first handed USC its first loss of the year in 2022 and then drubbed them out of last year’s Pac-12 championship game. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said this week he wouldn’t call the matchup a rivalry; that could change in a couple days.

    Who’s better? Utah’s defense is one of the best in the FBS, ranking fifth in opponent points-per-game allowed. USC’s offense, as Whittingham pointed out, has been performing even better than last year. It’s a matchup of two of the best individual units in college football; and Utah enters with a built-in upper hand, with film readily available of Arizona and Notre Dame defenses that capably handled the Trojans’ passing game in back-to-back games.

    But Utah’s offense, with the absence of Rising, looks nothing like the explosive attack that hung 40-plus on USC in its two meetings last year. It’s looking increasingly unlikely Rising plays against USC, and with widespread injuries across the board for the Utes – down two top tight ends in Kuithe and Yassmin – the overall edge in talent hinges slightly toward the Trojans here.

    Matchup to watch: USC’s offensive line against Utah’s Jonah Elliss. Think the most important aspect of Saturday’s game is how Caleb Williams attacks the Utes’ defense? Maybe, but none of that goes according to plan if USC can’t protect its quarterback for the second game in a row. It’ll be interesting to see if the Trojans’ line makes any personnel changes to prepare for a dynamic Utah front, and Elliss is the key, a 6-foot-2, 246-pound cyclone of a pass rusher who’s become one of the most dominant defensive players in the country. He has nine sacks in six games and could be the worst possible matchup at the worst possible time for USC’s front.

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    USC wins if: They limit the negative plays that doomed them against Notre Dame – namely, if the line holds Utah to four or fewer sacks and the Trojans don’t commit multiple turnovers. If their offense doesn’t hand the ball to Utah, the Utes don’t have a dynamic enough attack to keep up.

    Prediction: USC 28, Utah 24. Williams may take time and more than a few hits in figuring out Utah’s defense, but he’s looked especially motivated coming off the worst performance of his collegiate career.

    ​ Orange County Register