UTAH UTES (4-1)
at USC TROJANS (5-1)
L.A. Memorial Coliseum – Los Angeles, CA
Kickoff: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: USC -13, Total: 53.5
East Coast viewers get to see a marquee Pac-12 matchup in prime time.
At 4-0 and 4-0 ATS, and coming off a bye week, it seemed like the Utah Utes were positioned as well as they possibly could be to pull off a home upset over Stanford last weekend. That hope lasted for most of the game, too—Utah kept the game close, never trailing by more than 10. After scoring a touchdown with under a minute remaining, though, the Utes were unable to recover an onside kick, and took their first loss of the season, 23-20 to the Cardinal (UTAH +3). Stanford was easily their best opponent of the young season, and the tight loss confirmed that they can hang with the conference's elite. Now Utah must take to the road, this time for a matchup with a 5-1 USC team (1-5 ATS) that beat Stanford handily earlier this year. After a 30-27 defeat at Washington State two weeks ago that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten, the Trojans took out their frustrations on a hapless Oregon State team last weekend with a 38-10 triumph at home (ORST +33). Over the last five seasons, home teams coming off four consecutive losses against the spread (USC) are 37-13 ATS against opponents coming off a win against the spread. But in the same time frame, underdogs of 10.5 to 21 points that have a winning percentage between .600 and .800 and have won four out of their last five (UTAH) are 27-5 ATS against teams with winning records. Utah QB Tyler Huntley is tentatively listed to start the game, while USC WR Deontay Burnett is questionable to play after leaving the Oregon State game with an injury. USC RB Stephen Carr is also questionable.
Huntley (73.3 CMP%, 966 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs; 56 carries, 208 yards, 3 TDs) opened the season as the starter for the Utes, and he was largely quite good before getting injured. He rushed for over 50 yards in each of his first three starts, and seemed well on his way to his best performance of the year in Week 4 against Arizona, completing 8 of 9 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. But he went down with a shoulder injury in the second quarter and, after a bye week, wasn't even dressed against Stanford. It seems quite possible that he won't play this week, despite being listed as the starter early in the week. QB Troy Williams (50.0 CMP%, 369 yards, TD, 2 INTs; 14 carries, 41 yards, TD) has been the next man up, and the offense just hasn't been the same without Huntley. Head coach Kyle Whittingham has openly pondered replacing Williams with third-stringer Cooper Bateman if Huntley is out again, although it's hard to imagine that move resulting in a significant offensive upgrade. Huntley's running ability opened up this offense in a way that hasn't been seen in previous seasons, and neither of his backups can replicate that ability. Fortunately, star WR Darren Carrington (37 catches, 584 yards, 5 TDs) has kept up his productivity, catching seven passes for 99 yards and a score against Stanford, all in the second half. RB Zack Moss (73 carries, 344 yards, 3 TDs) had a good showing against the Cardinal, as well, carrying 15 times for 79 yards and a touchdown.
USC QB Sam Darnold (64.8 CMP%, 1,705 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs) faced unreasonably high expectations entering the season, so it's no surprise that he hasn't matched them. Nonetheless, his interception total is unacceptable regardless of expectations, and his 143.2 passer rating is only seventh in the Pac-12. His best game of the season came in Week 2, when he dissected Stanford in the Trojans' only impressive win of the season. While he was good against Oregon State last weekend, he had faltered the week prior in the Washington State loss, completing only 15 of 29 passes for 164 yards and an interception. As has been the case for every USC quarterback this century, he has tons of weapons, but he'll be severely disadvantaged if he's without Burnett (41 catches, 527 yards, 6 TDs). Burnett has twice as many catches and yards as any other receiver on the team, and three times as many receiving touchdowns. Next up for wideouts in terms of production are senior Steven Mitchell Jr. (18 catches, 269 yards, 2 TDs) and freshman Tyler Vaughns (19 catches, 222 yards, TD). RBs Ronald Jones III (85 carries, 529 yards, 7 TDs) and Carr (52 carries, 309 yards, 3 TDs; 13 catches, 130 yards) are both incredibly talented running backs, with Carr pitching in more often as a receiver. Carr, a freshman, appears to be planning to return for the Notre Dame game next week after suffering a foot injury against Wazzu, but hasn't formally been ruled out for this week. Jones needed only 12 carries to get 79 yards and a touchdown against Oregon State last week, and he had an 86-yard touchdown run against Washington State the week prior.