We’ve been friends since elementary school, became close in high school when he was the quarterback. He’s like my brother, and our families are really close. —Utah linebacker Jared Norris, on USC quarterback Cody Kessler
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah linebacker Jared Norris will be trying to put the hurt on one of his best friends this weekend when the Utes take on USC at the Memorial Coliseum.
Norris is very good friends with USC starting quarterback Cody Kessler, who played on the same team as Norris at Centennial High School in Bakersfield, Calif.
“We’ve been friends since elementary school, became close in high school when he was the quarterback,” said Norris. “He’s like my brother, and our families are really close.”
Norris said the two try to talk every week after their respective games.
“Usually on Sundays after the games I give him a call and ask him about the game and how he did and what he thought about his game,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to play against him.”
When asked if it would be a problem taking his best friend to the turf on Saturday, Norris replied, “No, I’m going to try to do that as many times as I can. When you’re playing in a big stadium against one of your brothers, you can’t hold back.”
LUCKY AND FRIENDS: Another Ute who has close friends on the USC team is running back Lucky Radley, who said he’s had this week’s game “circled on my calendar” for some time.
Radley, who led the Utes in rushing last week with 56 yards and has 219 for the season, played for Taft High School in Los Angeles, not far from the USC campus. Running back D.J. Morgan, defensive tackle Antwaun Woods and offensive tackle Kevin Graf were Radley’s teammates in high school, and he’s well-acquainted with receiver Marqise Lee, running back Silas Redd and tight end Xavier Grimble.
“I grew up with a lot of those guys,” Radley said.
Radley said he and his friends watch each other’s games as much as possible and keep in touch.
“They’re blowing up my phone right now, they’re giving me crap already,” he said. “We’ll settle that on the field this week.”
NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Two places the Ute football team needs to improve most right now is third-down conversions on both sides of the ball and turnovers.
The Utes rank 10th in the league in third-down conversions at 32.3 percent and 12th in opponents’ third-down conversions at 41.5 percent. In turnover margin, Utah is 10th at -0.43.
“Our biggest nemeses right now are third downs and turnover margin,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’ve turned the ball over too much and not doing much with third downs. Those are two areas that are critical for us right now. We’re near the bottom of the league in both categories.”
NO ANSWER: Coach Whittingham had no answer for why his team seemed to come out flat against Arizona Saturday night when it fell behind 20-7 in the first half.
“It reminded me of Arizona State (37-7 loss) last year and Cal-Berkeley (34-10 loss) the year before,” Whittingham said. “Exactly the same feeling in the locker room. Same lack of passion, same lack of energy. Why, is the million-dollar question.”
Whittingham said he talked to assistant coach Dennis Erickson, who’s been a head coach for 23 years, and he didn’t have an answer.
“He’s coached a long time and he said he’s experienced the same thing many, many times in his career and doesn’t really have an explanation for it,” Whittingham said. "We’ve got to get it fixed obviously.”
In each of the past two years, the Utes played better following their flat performances. In 2011, the Utes beat Oregon State 27-8 in their next game as well as the three games after that.
Last year after the ASU loss, the Utes played better but lost to USC 38-28 and then lost to UCLA 21-14.
UTE NOTES: This week’s game starts at 2 p.m. MDT Saturday, Utah’s first early afternoon game since the Weber State game on Sept. 7. Utah has its second bye of the season the following week before playing Arizona State at home on Nov. 9. Tom Hackett continues to lead the Pac-12 in punting average at 43.8 yards per game. Trevor Reilly and Jared Norris are ranked sixth and seventh in the league in tackles per game. Reilly is tied for the league lead in fumble recoveries. The Utes are last in the league in interceptions with just two on the season. The Utes have 33 players from California on their roster.