Utah's Lotulelei poses problems

Stanford's defensive front caused the Khaled Holmes-less USC Trojans a lot of trouble a couple of weeks ago in Palo Alto.

How much havoc could a Utah line, led by Star Lotulelei, wreak this Thursday night if Holmes is again unable to go?

Lotulelei, a potential No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft, is viewed in many circles as one of the top collegiate nose tackles in recent seasons, and he typically takes up two blockers on each snap. He's known to more often require three offensive linemen than one.

Although he may not always be the one threatening to reach the quarterback, it could be difficult for two or three USC offensive linemen to block the rest of the Utah D-line.

USC coach Lane Kiffin has consistently complimented Lotulelei, dating back to last August. He said this week that the 6-4, 320-pounder has gotten even better.

"I think he's really improved," Kiffin said of Lotulelei. "He was a really good player last year, obviously, but he looks like he's trimmed down, stronger, quicker and in better shape.

"He can take over games if you allow him to."

Kiffin stressed the importance of not watching too much of Lotulelei's 2011 tape, because he's much more dominant now than he was then.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley said he can't afford to think specifically about him during Thursday's game. He also said he doesn't need to worry about whether or not Lotulelei is lining up before each snap because "he's always on the field."

Holmes, the Trojans' senior center, offered no hints as to whether or not he'd be suiting up Thursday when leaving the practice field this week, but he did say he understood why Lotulelei has been so hyped.

"Deservedly so," Holmes said.