Tom Smart, Deseret News
In this 2011 file photo, Utah Utes defensive end Joe Kruger (99) stops USC Trojans running back Dillon Baxter (28) as the University of Utah is defeated by USC 17-14 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the first ever PAC-12 game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, in Los Angeles, Calif.

SALT LAKE CITY — Lindsey Thiry covers USC football for SCPlaybook on the network. She knows the program backwards and forwards and answered five questions to give perspective on Utah's next opponent.

How is the team recovering from a tough loss at Stanford? What went wrong in that game and what are coaches doing to address what went wrong?

USC bounced back from the loss at Stanford, beating Cal the following Saturday in the L.A. Coliseum behind strong play from their offensive line as well as season breakout performances from tailbacks Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd. The two backs combined for 296 rushing yards. The problem against Stanford really started with the offensive line and the absence of USC senior center Khaled Holmes, who was unable play due to an ankle injury suffered the previous week at Syracuse. Stanford's front-seven were too much for the line, without Holmes, causing USC's entire offense to break down.

Utah surprised a lot of people by coming close to defeating USC in Los Angeles last season. How is Utah viewed by USC fans and by the program in light of its inclusion in the Pac-12?

The fans feel that Utah and Colorado continue to be the black sheep of the Pac-12. The Utes' two losses to Utah State and Arizona State definitely didn't help their status. The USC football program and its players have said all week during preparations that they won't be taking Utah lightly and that they are preparing for them as seriously as they would any other team.

The Trojans have some potent weapons on offense. Who are some of the top play-makers, what type of offense does USC run?

USC's offense was touted as one of — if not the best — in college football coming into the season. They are led by quarterback Matt Barkley, who has two huge targets at receiver in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. The addition of Penn State transfer Silas Redd gave the Trojans' two 1,000-plus yard rushers.

However, the Trojans' offensive numbers this season haven't been all that impressive. Barkley has thrown five interceptions. His connection with Woods isn't what it's been in the past. Both receivers have been prone to big play drops through their first four games, not to mention USC's running game was non-existent until their last game against Cal.

Opponents have been showing USC new defenses that the Trojans' haven't been able to scout on film in order to take away the threat of Lee and Woods. After pounding the ball on the ground and putting up mediocre passing numbers in their last game, it wouldn't be surprising to see Kiffin, USC's play caller, air it out to try and get the passing game going versus Utah.

Talk about USC on the defensive side of the ball. What type of defense does it run and who are the key play-makers?

The Trojans' defensive line was the biggest question mark coming into the season and it's turning out to be their surprising strength. Defensive end Devon Kennard has been out so far this season with a torn pectoral muscle. Defensive end Wes Horton made his first real impact of the season against Cal, after spotty time due to injuries.

The surprise player of the year for USC, on either side of the ball, is Morgan Breslin. He's a juco-transfer with 5.5 sacks on the season and a relentless motor. He played every defensive-snap against Cal, notable making the first tackle of the game for a loss and a sack on the last play of the game. He's certainly a player that Utah needs to keep track of.

The Trojans' secondary only has one gaping hole, the cornerback position opposite of Nickell Robey. Kiffin has rotated four different players into the spot throughout the season as injuries and inconsistency continue to plague the bunch. Look for Torin Harris to get the start and freshman Kevon Seymour to get some meaningful playing time. If Utah is to throw the ball, it most likely will be to their side of the field and far away from Robey.

What does USC need to do to come out of Salt Lake City with a win?

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USC needs to just play steady Trojan football to come away with the win. It's been a whirlwind of hype and media around them all season, starting with their preseason No. 2 AP ranking and talk of a national championship. Though they have publicly downplayed all the hype, it seems as though it was nearly impossible to escape altogether. That was evident in their reactions to the loss at Stanford.

They know the game Thursday is on a big stage, in front of a national audience (an audience that is rumbling about USC being overrated), and it could be very possible for them to come out and try to prove too much. But, if they go with whatever is working for their offense, whether it be the passing game or running the ball, they should be in good shape to improve to 4-1 and beat the Utes.


Twitter: @BrandonCGurney