It will be a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 Championship Game when No. 18 USC plays host to No. 14 Utah at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. The Utes handed the Trojans two of their three losses last season and derailed their College Football Playoff hopes in Lincoln Riley’s first season at the helm.
The Trojans started the season 6-0, but showed plenty of cracks in their armor in narrow wins over lesser competition. It finally caught up to them last week as Notre Dame exploited many of those weaknesses in a dominant 48-20 victory.
As for the Utes, they sit at 5-1 after a 34-14 win at home over Cal. Utah has been without quarterback and team leader Cameron Rising, who is still healing after he sustained a major knee injury in January’s Rose Bowl loss to Penn State. Rising played an integral role in Utah’s Pac-12 title run and was brilliant in two wins over the Trojans last year. In this absence, Utah has rotated backups Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson. Barnes started Utah’s opener against Florida and got the nod last weekend against Cal.
USC vs. Utah: Need to know
Caleb Williams getting back on track: The reigning Heisman Trophy hasn’t looked like his usual self as of late. In an overtime win over Arizona earlier this month, Williams had one of the worst passing performances of his career, but his heroics beyond regulation helped USC survive an upset scare. In the loss against Notre Dame in South Bend last Saturday, it was a different story. Williams was shaky and tossed a career-high three interceptions. USC still controls its own destiny and winning out the reminder of the season would not only guarantee a spot in the Pac-12 title game, but also create an opportunity to get back in the CFP hunt. That can only happen if the program’s franchise player gets back on track.
Utah must dominate in the trenches: Utah exploited the Trojans in the trenches in both of their victories a year ago. With a shaky quarterback situation, it’s likely the Utes will have to be even more dominant on the line of scrimmage to knock them off this year. The Utes are No. 1 in the country against the run, giving up just 66.8 yards per game. If they can contain a USC rushing attack that ranks 60th in the country, it should create some third-and-long opportunities for their defense to create pressure on Williams. On the other side of the ball the Utes’ 47th-ranked rushing attack has to chew up yardage and clock against a USC run defense that sits at No. 82 in the country giving up 152.4 yards per game.
The Branch effect: USC has no shortage of offensive weapons, but you only have to watch Zachariah Branch for a couple of minutes to realize he’s built different than just about anyone playing college football right now. After missing a couple of games, he announced his return from injury in a big way with a 60-yard punt return against Notre Dame. Still, he touched the ball just four times on offense as the Trojans sputtered to a season-low 20 points against the Irish. A bigger dose of Branch might be just the thing this offense needs to get right after last week’s woeful performance.
How to watch USC vs. Utah live
Date: Saturday, Oct. 21 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — Los Angeles
TV: Fox | Live stream: fubo (Try for free)
USC vs. Utah prediction, picks
Odds via SportsLine consensus
Yes, USC’s defense has looked downright awful against Pac-12 competition for most of the year. And, yes, the Trojans offense must figure out its own issues against the No. 1 defense in the conference. Still, the gap in quarterback play between the two teams is just too wide to pick the Utes in this one. Utah keeps things interesting for a while, but this game becomes a shootout in the later rounds. Unfortunately for the Utes, they just don’t have enough to win that way Pick: USC -6.5
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