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USC Sports

USC vs. Utah State: How the Trojans and Aggies match up

Devante Mays, Jonah Williams, Rayshawn Henderson
Utah State running back Devante Mays runs past Weber State defensive end Jonah Williams and defensive tackle Rayshawn Henderson (52) during a game Sept. 1.
(Eli Lucero / Associated Press)

USC (0-1) vs. Utah State (1-0), at the Coliseum. TV: Pac-12 Networks, 11 a.m.

Most intriguing story line: Bring the coffee and donuts. For the first time since at least the 1950s, USC is starting a home game at 11 a.m. USC hopes this game can be a wake-up call for the season. The Aggies are sandwiched between games against Alabama (a 52-6 loss) and Stanford. Snooze through this one and USC is in real trouble.

USC pass offense vs. Utah State pass defense: Alabama might be onto something. It bracketed JuJu Smith-Schuster with a cornerback and a safety, and he caught only one pass, his lowest total since his second college game. It might not be a coincidence that he briefly stormed out of practice Tuesday. A happy Smith-Schuster usually means a happy offense, but that means Darreus Rogers (two receptions against Alabama) has to develop into a threat and the offensive line (three sacks allowed) needs to give Max Browne more time. Utah State returns two starters, including a capable cornerback, Jalen Davis. But if USC can’t spring Smith-Schuster here, when can it?  EDGE: USC.

USC run offense vs. Utah State run defense: USC Coach Clay Helton has reviewed the Alabama game film “100 times,” he said. The major takeaway was that USC’s offensive line actually competed physically with a big, fast defense. The problem was it blew too many assignments. The result was pitiful: 64 rush yards in 30 carries. In a surprise, Aca’cedric Ware finished with almost as many carries (six) as USC’s featured backs, Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis (seven each). Only Jones finished with a respectable average (6.6 yards per carry). The matchup to watch is Utah State nose guard Travis Seefeldt against inexperienced center Nico Falah, who is starting for the injured Toa Lobendahn. USC needs to re-earn trust, but Utah State has replaced six of last season’s front seven.  EDGE: USC.

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Utah State pass offense vs. USC pass defense: Asked what most concerned him about Utah State, Helton didn’t hesitate. “The quarterback is what’s scary,” he said. The quarterback is Kent Myers, a one-time receiver who took over admirably for the injured Chuckie Keeton last season. Myers is an accurate passer, with a 61% completion percentage and 16 touchdowns with three interceptions, who can avoid rushers with his legs. USC was torched for 223 passing yards last week, but 110 yards and two scores came on big mental errors by cornerback Iman Marshall and safety Chris Hawkins.  EDGE: USC.

Utah State run offense vs. USC run defense: Only one school had three running backs taken in the NFL Draft between 2012 and 2013, according to Phil Steele: Utah State. The next product could be Devante Mays, a powerful runner who averaged 5.9 yards a carry last season.  “I think he’s special,” Helton said. “I think the kid’s going to play in the NFL.” Myers is a run threat too. USC’s run defense, expected to be porous, actually held up against Alabama — at least in the first half, when it gave up 92 yards. Injuries could be a factor: Defensive tackles Noah Jefferson (shoulder sprain) and Khaliel Rodgers (hamstring) are doubtful for USC.  EDGE: Utah State.

Special teams: Utah State kicker Brock Warren is a senior but isn’t very experienced. He’s nine for 13 in field-goal tries in his career. Not that USC’s Matt Boermeester has seen more action. He made the first two field-goal attempts of his career against Alabama, one of which clanged against a post and the crossbar. The Aggies don’t have an athlete of the caliber of USC returner Adoree’ Jackson. EDGE: USC.

Zach Helfand’s pick: Utah State is no pushover, but USC should come out angry and looking to make a statement. It doesn’t get any easier from here, so if USC doesn’t win convincingly, look out. USC 27, Utah State 17.

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