College Football Primetime

USC (1-2) vs Utah (3-0)

Trojans Breakdown

USC is off to its worst start since 2001 and its upcoming schedule won’t get any easier as the Trojans travel to face No. 23 Utah in a Pac-12 game Friday night (Enter Contest). USC is coming off a 27-10 loss Saturday at No. 6 Stanford, which dropped its record to 1-2 for the first time since Pete Carroll’s first season with the Trojans 15 years ago, and coach Clay Helton responded by replacing starting quarterback Max Browne, a junior, with freshman Sam Darnold.

Adoree’ Jackson is one of the most versatile and entertaining players in Division I and may need to take over this game to get the Trojans back on track. He’s a three-year starter at cornerback and also plays wide receiver and returns punt and kickoffs, putting him in the rare position of scoring touchdowns on a reception, interception return, punt and kickoff return during his career. Jackson, who limited Alabama sophomore wide receiver Calvin Ridley to two catches for nine yards in the season opener earlier this month, figures to draw the task of covering Utah’s senior wide receiver Tim Patrick.

Utes Breakdown

The Utes won’t have any pity for USC after the Trojans upset them 42-24 last season when they came to Los Angeles ranked No. 7, spoiling a 6-0 start. That game was the debut of Helton, who was made the permanent coach later in the season but has gone 1-4 since. Utah is led by quarterback Troy Williams, an L.A.-area product who is coming off a 20-for-28 performance last weekend against San Jose State, finishing with 257 yards and a touchdown. The Utes didn’t throw a touchdown pass until their third game last season. They already have four in 2016, with all of them caught by Patrick.

Utah’s defense delivered 10 sacks against San Jose and look to get after Darnold against one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country. Hunter Dimick leads the way with three sacks for Utah and brings plenty of experience, starting 23 games in his college career. Kylie Fitts was expected to be a key part of the defensive line, but suffered a season-ending injury two weeks ago, increasing the role of Filipo Mokofisi, who move from defensive tackle to Fitts’ former spot at defensive end last week and produced two sacks.

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One month after Clay Helton was hired as the permanent head coach at USC, he’ll experience his first bowl game when the Trojans meet Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on Dec. 30. Helton was hired Nov. 30, two days after USC beat rival UCLA to advance to the Pac-12 championship game, but the Trojans lost to Stanford and ended up in San Diego rather than at the coveted Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Helton fired several of his assistants in the week following his hiring, which could leave the Trojans vulnerable in certain areas.

If the Trojans hope to extend their all-time record to 7-0 against Wisconsin, they’ll need to find a way to protect quarterback Cody Kessler. USC has allowed 35 sacks this season, which is tied for eighth-most in the Pac-12, and the Badgers have a premier pass rusher in outside linebacker Joe Schobert. He has produced 18.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and forced five fumbles, which ties the single-season program record; he could turn it into a long night for Kessler.

Wisconsin hasn’t defeated a team with a winning record this season, losing a pair of nail-biters to Iowa and Northwestern, the teams that finished ahead of the Badgers in the West Division of the Big Ten. If they hope to get their first win against a team with a winning record, they’ll likely need another big game from running back Dare Ogunbowale, who carried the ball 33 times in the regular-season finale against Minnesota, totaling a career-high 155 yards and a touchdown. There’s also a possibility that injury-plagued but talented running back Corey Clement could be available, though he wasn’t practicing with the team earlier in the month, instead working with the strength and conditioning staff.

USC Season Overview (8-5, 6-3 Pac-12): Adoree Jackson was voted the most valuable player for the Trojans this season, contributing as a wide receiver, defensive back and punt returner, but the real game-changer is teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster, the talented wide receiver who has caught 85 passes for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns. Smith-Schuster, Jackson and the other receivers will be up against a Wisconsin pass defense that has allowed six touchdown passes all season. Steven Mitchell Jr. could become a prime target in this game, as he specializes in the shorter routes that might come in handy for Kessler.


WISCONSIN Season Overview (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Badgers quarterback Joel Stave will look to punctuate his college career on a high note, something he failed to accomplish in his Big Ten finale. He threw for just 79 yards in the 31-21 victory against Minnesota with no touchdown passes and an interception, giving him six picks in the last four games. Stave is expected to have one of his favorite targets back as second-leading receiver Robert Wheelwright has been practicing after missing the final four games with a broken fibula.


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