Rice-Eccles Stadium at 8 p.m. local time (7 p.m. PT) on Fox Sports 1
Ute to Watch: Senior DE Nate Orchard
Orchard leads the fiercest pass rush in college football as Utah averages 5.5 sacks per game, including 10 against Brett Hundley and UCLA in the Utes win at the Rose Bowl. Orchard is second in the nation with 10.5 sacks, and he comes in hot with six sacks in his last two games. As Fox Sports 1 analyst Charles Davis said on Trojans Live this week, the Utes are like "an NFL pass rush. They are looking to stop the run on the way to the quarterback."
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The young USC offensive line went back to school under Tim Drevno after the Boston College loss, which saw them exposed by a veteran front in a road atmosphere. Ever since, the Trojans have improved week-by-week providing a cushy pocket for Cody Kessler to set records and paving the way for Buck Allen to lead the Pac-12 in rushing. Now, Utah provides a midterm exam worthy of a final. If the offensive line can stall the Utes' pass rush and force the game to be decided by perimeter athletes, USC will have a distinct advantage.
Steve Sarkisian has made his game plan clear. He wants his offense to be his best defense by controlling the scoreboard even more than worrying about time of possession. Utah has the second best rushing attack in the Pac-12, but the second worst passing offense. The Utes will undoubtedly pound Devontae Booker over and over again into the thin USC front seven hoping to wear the Trojans down by the fourth quarter. Other than getting off the field on third down, Sarkisian hopes that taking an early lead will force the Utes to play to their statistical weakness instead of their strength.
Automatic Andre or Alex
The head coach also pointed to the kicking game as a potential deciding factor. Special teams is Utah's strength led by "Automatic" Andy Phillips, who is the conference's leading scorer per game (13/15 on field goals). The Utes also feature a dangerous return man in Kaelin Clay, who leads the nation with three punt return TDs. USC has not attempted a field goal in the last two games as Andre Heidari sat out with a sore groin and Alex Wood handled kickoffs and extra points. If this game turns into a physical, grinding affair, the Trojans cannot afford to leave three points on the field or give up a special teams six.