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USC vs. Utah: Game offers matchups with holdover emotions

USC vs. Utah: Game offers matchups with holdover emotions

Utah defensive end Kylie Fitts, right, and teammate Viliseni Fauonuku force Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil to fumble, leading to a return touchdown for the Utes on Sept. 19.

(Gary Kazanjian / Associated Press)

USC, in danger of losing three games in a row for the first time since 2012, plays third-ranked Utah in a Pac-12 Conference South game at the Coliseum. Times staff writer Gary Klein examines the matchups and story lines:

Inspired Ute

Utah defensive lineman Kylie Fitts, who transferred from UCLA and sat out before the 2014 season, has history with USC and no doubt would like to play well against the Trojans.

Fitts graduated early from Redlands East Valley High in December 2012 with the intention of enrolling at USC in January 2013. But a few days before he and other recruits were scheduled to arrive on campus, Fitts was shopping with his mother for dorm supplies when recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron called and informed him that he had to wait until summer because a Trojans senior failed to graduate, leaving USC at its then-maximum of 75 players.

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Fitts said in February 2013 that his “heart dropped” at the news.

“Coming in early was really big for me,” he said.

USC football linemen Zach Banner, Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama talk about the honor of carrying on their island heritage, how their tattoos were a family decision and about the big and powerful ache when the ink artist turns to work on the inside o

Fitts reopened his recruitment and took trips to Notre Dame, UCLA and Utah before signing with the Bruins.

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He sat out after transferring in 2014. He has recovered two fumbles this season.

Passed tense

USC quarterback Cody Kessler is completing 69% of his passes, 17 for touchdowns, but has matched his 2014 season total for interceptions with five in the last three games.

Last season against Utah, Kessler completed 24 of 32 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception, in a 24-21 defeat at Salt Lake City.

Kessler is expected to again be without receivers Steven Mitchell Jr. and Darreus Rogers, who are injured. JuJu Smith-Schuster leads the Trojans with 39 receptions, seven for touchdowns.

Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, who played at San Clemente High, is completing 68% of his passes, seven for touchdowns, with three interceptions.

His top targets include running back Devontae Booker and receivers Kenneth Scott and Britain Covey.

The 6-foot-7 Wilson also is a threat to run. He is averaging 40.6 yards rushing per game.

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Youth vs. experience

USC tailback Ronald Jones II spent the first half of the season showing flashes of his breakaway speed while working to improve his pass catching and blocking.

With senior Tre Madden nursing a knee injury, Jones, a freshman, could get an extended opportunity along with junior Justin Davis.

Jones has rushed for a team-leading 380 yards and has averaged 8.6 yards a carry. Davis averages 6.5 yards per carry, Madden 5.7.

Booker averages 130.5 yards rushing per game, which ranks third in the Pac-12. He leads the nation with 26.8 rush attempts per game.

Getting defensive

With depth no longer an issue, USC’s goal this season was to finish games strong. But the Trojans gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns against Notre Dame.

Lineman Claude Pelon remains sidelined because of injury and the secondary might be without cornerback Adoree’ Jackson for stretches if, as expected, his role increases on offense.

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Utah has given up only seven sacks.

Utah’s defensive front features Hunter Dimick, Pita Taumoepenu, who has six sacks, and Jason Fanaika, who has four tackles for losses.

Linebackers Gionni Paul and Jared Norris lead the team in tackles.

Sophomore Marcus Williams, who played at Corona Roosevelt High, has four interceptions, Dominique Hatfield, who played at Los Angeles Crenshaw, three.

Special delivery

Utah’s special teams regularly affect the outcome of games.

Punter Tom Hackett averages a conference-best 48 yards per kick. Andy Phillips has made 10 of 13 field-goal attempts. The Utes have returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns.

USC kicker Alex Wood has made five of seven field-goal attempts. Jackson averages 23.7 yards per kick-off return, 10.2 per punt return. Last season, he returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Utes.

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein


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