LOS ANGELES — The Utah football team travels to take on the Trojans of USC this Saturday in hopes of securing its first road conference win of the year. The Utes are reeling a bit after last week's loss to Arizona but hope to rebound and take down a Trogan team they've matched up well with since joining the Pac-12.
USC has endured its share of struggles this season and is coming off a heartbreaking 14-10 loss on the road to rival Notre Dame. Head coach Lane Kiffin was fired midseason, leaving a lot of question marks surrounding this year's team.
So what type of team will the Utes be matching up with on Saturday? We caught up with Trojan beat reporter Lindsey Thiry of USCplaybook.com to ask five questions to gain better insight on the Trojans.
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What's the current state of the team in the wake of Lane Kiffin being dismissed?
Since the firing of Lane Kiffin, the USC football team seems to be in its best spirits since the loss to Arizona during the 2012 season. That game began the slide that eventually landed with the 7-6 season.
USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron is running the program in a very different manner than Kiffin. Under Kiffin, no sweets were allowed at training table; Orgeron has cookies as far as the eye can see. With Kiffin in charge, the staff would work until the early morning hours; since Orgeron took over, everyone must be out of the office no later than 10 p.m.
Players knew Kiffin would be gone by the end of the season as did the media. By terminating him in the middle of the season, USC athletic director Pat Haden lifted a burden off his football team who constantly fielded questions about Kiffin's status.
Talk about USC on offense. What type of offense do the Trojans run and who are the primary play-makers?
Since the firing of Kiffin, USC's offense has taken on a new life. At times over the last two games they've run a no huddle, but are mainly sticking to the pro-style offense that has been in place.
Play-makers? They are starting to become few and far between. USC star receiver Marqise Lee was forced to sit out in the win over Arizona and was only available for the first half in the loss at Notre Dame as he recovers from a knee sprain. The Trojans' top two tailbacks this season, Tre Madden and Justin Davis, have also been hit by the USC injury bug. Madden is questionable for Saturday; Davis is out for the season. Senior tailback Silas Redd has made his return to the USC offense the last two games since being sidelined the first five games. With a number of skilled players available due to injury, look for Redd to be the go-to-guy on offense.
Same question on defense. What type of defense is run and who are the primary play-makers?
The Trojans are running a 5-2 defense under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. The defensive line is led by sophomore Leonard Williams, who causes headaches for the opposition, but if the pass rush is ineffective and the quarterback is able to get the ball off, the Trojans' secondary is a liability.
Seven games into the season, USC can't find an answer for one of its cornerback spots. Safety Josh Shaw will once again be moved to corner this Saturday to try to lock down the glaring weakness. Freshman Su'a Cravens has been a huge play-maker in the secondary; the safety came up with a goal line stop at Notre Dame and has the ability to break and intercept passes with ease.
USC has won two straight against the Utes, but neither of those wins came easy. How does the team view Utah as an opponent?
Utah's win over Stanford has put the rest of the Pac-12 on notice and USC is no different. Saturday's game will be a struggle for the Trojans. The Thursday night struggle in Salt Lake City a year ago is not lost on their minds; nor is the fact they'll be going against Utah with a slim roster and a game plan that won't allow much flexibility due to a lack of healthy players. Utah, once maybe overlooked by a program with the history of USC, is no longer taken lightly.
What does USC need to do to come away with a victory on Saturday?
USC needs to find a way to get skilled players back simply to playing the game. At the beginning of the week's practices, USC had no scholarship tight ends available, only one scholarship receiver, and only two fully healthy tailbacks practicing. If USC hopes to win against Utah, they'll have to get a couple of these guys healthy and an offensive line that has struggled to this point in the season must play out of their mind to hold off the Utah pass rush. If they can get a few guys back and if the offensive line can cut down on penalties and neutralize the Utah pass rush, they have a chance.