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What to watch when USC faces Utah

Here are key areas to watch when the Utah Utes and the USC Trojans meet on Saturday at the Coliseum.

When Utah has the ball

It’s no secret about what the Utes like to do, they give the ball to Devontae Booker a lot (averaging 30 touches per game). He carries the ball more than any other tailback in the nation, but they will also throw to him, and his 5-foot-11, 215-pound frame is very hard to bring down. This will be the biggest test for a USC defense that has yet to show it can consistently stop the run when that is what the opponent is looking to do.

Utah has a typically strong offensive line that will look to control the line of scrimmage against a USC front that has had troubles in this area. Don’t be surprised if true freshmen Porter Gustin and Osa Masina, both from Utah, get more action for the Trojans linebacker group in an effort to bring more bulk. And the biggest key for USC in this game will be tackling, something the Trojans did not do well last week against the Irish. They need to get Booker on the ground when the opportunity is there because he is good at creating yards after contact.

When USC has the ball

The offensive line will play an equally big role as its Utah counterparts, not only to help maintain the run game but to keep pressure off Cody Kessler, who has thrown five picks in the last three games. The Utes lead the nation in interceptions and have 16 sacks, plus they are No. 2 in the nation in turnover margin. They will be facing a USC line that may be doing some shuffling. Left tackle Chad Wheeler missed practices this week while undergoing concussion protocol, so Zach Banner flipped from right tackle to the left side with true freshman Chuma Edoga stepping in for Banner at RT.

This follows a lineup change last week when Toa Lobendahn filled in at center for Max Tuerk, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Contrast that with the Utah offensive line, which has seen four starters start every game this year. One wild card for the Trojans could be Adoree’ Jackson, who may see an expanded role as a receiver in this game with USC also battling injuries at wide receiver.

Coaches

An interesting matchup when you consider interim coach Clay Helton going against Kyle Whittingham, a veteran coach in his 11th year at Utah and one who has his program in such a good spot that he is being mentioned as a possible candidate for the USC job. Of course, Helton has made it clear that he wants the job on a full-time basis and we don’t really know how much Whittingham may or may not be a legitimate candidate at this point. What we do know is that the two coaches are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Helton is trying to quickly figure out how to get the Trojans back on track after losing three of the last four games while Whittingham appears to be in full control of another physical edition of the Utes, who are ranked third in the current AP poll.