Much has been made about the inexperience of a Trojans offensive line that features three true freshman in the rotation, and they will be going up against a typically big Utah defensive front that likes to get after the quarterback. While the Trojans line has seen improvement lately in run blocking, the ability to pass protect for Cody Kessler will be taken to another level in this game. Utah leads the nation in sacks (5.5 per game) and tackles for loss (10.2 per game), and sacked UCLA 10 times.
Utah is led by senior defensive end Nate Orchard, a three-year starter, who has 39 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks. Utah will likely try to follow a similar plan to the one used by Boston College when the Eagles defeated USC earlier this season by stunting and confusing the Trojans line, and we’ll see how much the line has learned since that game.
“Utah has a very aggressive front and they look to get after the quarterback,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “It’s nothing new for them; they’ve been this way for years under Coach [Kyle] Whittingham and coach [Kalani] Sitake and I’ve got a lot of respect for the way they do it. They play a specific style that, in my opinion, is unique to them with the aggressiveness they show on the defensive front.
“The best way to prepare for them is to go out and execute at a high level. We have to understand what we’re going up against, the physicality that it’s going to take, and then we need to be creative with our play-calls to make sure that we’re taking care of our offensive line and putting them in positive positions to be successful. Our line will be challenged. First of all, Utah is really talented, and secondly, the crowd noise and road environment will be a factor.”
Effectively protecting Kessler will go a long way, as this is a USC offense that is coming off its most dynamic performance of the season. Not only did Kessler set a school record with seven touchdown passes against Colorado, but the Trojans had a pair of 100-yard receivers and came within a few yards of having two tailbacks with 100 yards apiece. There was also an increased element of throwing the ball downfield, something that had been missing as a consistent threat early in the season.
“This is what we’ve been working towards with this offense,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got a really quality run game going right now that we’re confident in, we’ve got an excellent short-to-intermediate pass game that we’re confident in, and now when we’re throwing it down the field that sure makes it more difficult on the defense.”
That USC run game has been led by Javorius Allen, who leads the Pac-12 in rushing (129.9 per game) and has put together four 100-yard games in a row. Utah is giving up only 114.3 yards per game, a mark that is No. 2 in the Pac-12 and 20th in the nation. It’s another one of those “strength on strength” battles, making the battle in the trenches one of the critical factors in the game.
IRVING, Texas -- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is among the 81 coaches and players up for election to the College Football Hall of Fame.
The National Football Foundation on Wednesday released the ballot for the class that will be announced Jan. 9. Former Heisman Trophy winners Rashaan Salaam of Colorado, Ricky Williams of Texas and Eric Crouch of Nebraska are among the 75 players from the Football Bowl Subdivision on the ballot.
Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth and Southern California receiver Keyshawn Johnson are also up for election.
The NFF tweaked its rules for eligibility a few years ago to allow active coaches, such as Snyder, to be eligible for the election after they turn 75.
The 75-year-old Snyder is in his 23rd season at Kansas State. He has a record of 183-91-1.
The game is intriguing from an advanced stats view, as well, a head-to-head battle between one of the nation’s best offenses and one of the best defenses. Traditional box score statistics might not recognize the matchup as particularly remarkable. USC’s offense ranks 28th nationally in points per game and 31st nationally in yards per game. Utah’s defense ranks 35th in points allowed and 55th in yards allowed per game. But those raw numbers don’t account for the strength of opposition faced or the context of play and drive efficiency.
Several Pac-12 commitments and prospects saw some significant movement in the updated ESPN 300 rankings released Wednesday. Overall, the conference holds commitments from two of the top 22 prospects in the country and 26 of the top 300. With fewer than four months until signing day, let's take a look at where the Pac-12 stands in the ESPN 300.
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It's depth chart Wednesday! All 12 teams are in action this week -- no byes. Actually, it will be like this for the next two weeks. So that's exciting! Here are the most current depth charts for all the teams in action this week, save UCLA, which doesn't post a weekly depth chart. As always, I'll note any significant changes below.
- Arizona State (page 16 of the game notes)
- California (page 10 of the game notes)
- Oregon (page 10 of the game notes)
- Oregon State (page 27 of the game notes)
- USC (page 17 of the game notes)
- Utah (page 11 of the game notes)
- Washington (page nine of the game notes)
- Washington State (page 11 of the game notes)
- At ASU, De'Marieya Nelson is off the defensive side of the ball and is only listed as a tight end and not a "devil" backer. Todd Graham said he'll be limited to just a few defensive snaps a game (see story below).
- At Cal, Noah Westerfield or Harrison Wilfley will start at defensive end for the injured Brennan Scarlett, and Khalfani Muhammad is back in the kick return rotation with Tre Watson for the injured Trevor Davis.
- At OSU, Jordan Villamin will start in place of Richard Mullaney, who is likely done for the season with an elbow injury. Some flipping on the OSU offensive line with injuries. Sean Harlow moves to left tackle for the injured Gavin Andrews, opening up right tackle for Dustin Stanton. Lavonte Barnett is listed as the starting left defensive end.
- At Stanford, Harrison Phillips and Nate Lohn will fill in for DT David Parry, who is doubtful with a leg injury.
- At Washington, John Ross is listed ahead of Kasen Williams.
- At Washington State, Peyton Pelluer is listed ahead of Darryl Monroe at the mike linebacker spot. Per reports, Monroe has been limited in practice.
Usually in this space every Wednesday, we've been linking the straw poll from Heismanpundit.com. However Chris Huston, friend of the blog who runs that site, has put it on hold while he does some work for the official Heisman site. We wish him the best.
So today we'll update you with the ESPN.com Heisman poll. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota still sits behind Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. But he closed the gap last week with his performance against Washington.
Here's how the latest poll shakes out, followed by their total points:
Prescott and Mariota were the only players receiving first-place votes. Looks like it's a two-man race to the finish.
- WSU presents an opportunity for Arizona's defensive backs to shine.
- Todd Graham likes his defensive line rotation.
- Sonny Dykes has some high praise for Mariota.
- Sefo Liufau shoulders the blame for the USC loss.
- Some Mark Helfrich video talking Cal, special teams and scout teams.
- The Beavers need the injured Mullaney to stop moping and start coaching.
- David Shaw takes a lot of the blame for Stanford's offensive woes.
- Jim Mora updating the status of Paul Perkins.
- A USC recruiting update.
- Devontae Booker was named Athlon's national player of the week.
- Some post-practice videos with Jaydon Mickens and Joshua Perkins.
- The Cougars lose a running back.
A cool behind-the-scenes photo journal of UCLA's trip to Cal.
Bravo, Oregon fans. Bravo.
The Trojans will rock these shiny new lids on Saturday.
No. 6 Oregon vs. California at Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
- Oregon has scored 79 points off turnovers, most in the conference.
- Oregon has gained 61.9 percent of the possible yards on offense, most in the conference.
- Cal leads the nation in touchdowns in conference games (26).
- Oregon true freshman RB Royce Freeman has scored 12 touchdowns, most in the conference.
- Cal QB Jared Goff ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 with an 80.8 QBR, which ranks No. 6 nationally.
No. 25 UCLA at Colorado
- Colorado is second in the Pac-12 averaging 49.3 pass attempts per game, but allows a conference-low 1.71 sacks per game.
- The Bruins have had 13 drives of 80 yards or more, the most in the Pac-12.
- UCLA picks up at least one first down on 82.4 percent of its drive, second-most in the Pac-12 behind Arizona.
- Colorado has gone for it on fourth down 22 times, the most in the Pac-12.
- In goal-to-go situations, both UCLA and Colorado have both scored touchdowns on 11 of 13 attempts with two made field goals.
- Stanford is tops in the conference in yard margin per game in Pac-12 play, averaging 113 more yards than its opponents.
- Stanford has committed four turnovers in the red zone-- six teams in the conference have committed none.
- Oregon State averages the most seconds of possession per play in the conference (28.3), but is followed closely by Stanford (28.0).
- Oregon State scores on 37.2 percent of its drives, while Stanford is at 31.4 -- two of the three lowest rates in the Pac-12.
- Stanford did not lose to Oregon State during its school-record 72-week streak in the AP Top 25 that was snapped this week. The Cardinal's last loss to Oregon State came in 2009, when it was unranked.
- Opposing defenses have committed 17 penalties against Arizona, the most against any Pac-12 team.
- Arizona averages the fewest seconds of possession per play in the Pac-12 (20.1).
- Arizona RB Nick Wilson owns the Pac-12's longest rush of the season -- an 85-yard touchdown run against UTSA. Only two other players have a carry longer than 57 yards yards.
- Three WSU receivers – Vince Mayle, River Cracraft and Dom Williams – have a reception of 84 yards or longer. Of the rest of the conference, only Arizona (Cayleb Jones and Austin Hill) has more than one.
- WSU punts on just 29.5 percent of its drives, the third-lowest percentage in the Pac-12.
- Utah averages 4.83 drives per game without a first down, the most in the Pac-12. USC averages 3.86, the second most.
- Utah RB Devontae Booker averages 187.7 yards rushing in conference games, the second most among Power 5 running backs behind Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (217) ... and USC's Buck Allen is far behind. He ranks No. 6 (149).
- USC QB Cody Kessler is among the most accurate quarterbacks in the country. His completion percentage (69.5) ranks No. 5 and his interception percentage (0.4) is No. 3.
- Utah (5.18) and USC (5.36) rank No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in yards per play allowed in Pac-12 play.
- Washington has turned the ball over on just 3.4 percent of its possessions, the lowest rate in the Pac-12.
- Arizona State is one of five teams in the country averaging over 320 yards passing and over 190 yards rushing on offense.
- Arizona State’s defense has committed 11 penalties that resulted in first downs, second fewest in the country.
- ASU averages 6.74 yards per play, which ranks second in the Pac-12 and 15th nationally.
- Washington averages 181.4 passing yards per game, the fewest in the Pac-12.
"I thought the guys came out with a good intention to work to improve, to really soak in the game plan, which is what Tuesdays are about -- really getting the meat and potatoes of the game plan installed, working through the kinks of it, and then getting it cleaned up in our meetings this evening and getting back on the field tomorrow for practice," Sarkisian said. "I think these guys understand the value of this game and what it means in conference standings, which is important to know."
At the top of Sarkisian's list of concerns is an attacking Utah defense that ranks No. 1 nationally in both sacks (5.5 per game) and tackles for loss (10.2 per game). Led up front by defensive end Nate Orchard, the Utes figure to provide quite a test for USC's improving, but still young offensive line.
"Utah plays a specific style that, in my opinion, is unique to them," Sarkisian said. "They've had great defensive linemen over the years in Star Lotulelei, and the Krugers and all of those different guys. Now it's kind of Nate Orchard's turn to be the lead guy for them. So, the best way to prepare for them is we have to go out and execute at a high level. We have to understand what we're going up against and the physicality that it's going to take for us to play with, and then we need to be creative with our play calls to make sure that we're taking care of our offensive line and putting them in positive positions to be successful."
Kessler hears from USC passing greats
USC quarterback Cody Kessler said that since throwing for a school single-game record seven touchdown passes this past weekend, he's received a steady flow of congratulatory messages, including from some notable USC signal-callers of the past in Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley.
"It's kind of cool because there's such a long tradition here," Kessler said. "The guys that I got to watch before me, to kind of hear from them and for them to reach out on different types of social media is a really cool feeling."
Kessler said that it was the message from Barkley -- whose record Kessler broke on Saturday -- that made the biggest impression.
"I think the most meaningful one was from Matt Barkley, just because it was his record, and he was like my big brother when he was here," Kessler said. "A lot of the stuff I learned here is from him. He taught me how to play the game here, and how to handle everything, and how to be off the field as well. And to be able to do that, and hear from him after on social media and then get a text was a really cool feeling."
- After heading to the sideline early against Colorado, freshman cornerback/wide receiver Adoree' Jackson (hip flexor) took part in the entirety of practice on Tuesday. "He came out of the game not as bad as maybe we first initially thought, and he's done a good job with his rehab, and he was able to get back on the field and really do quality work, so we're anticipating him good-to-go for Saturday,” Sarkisian said.
- Wide receivers Ajene Harris (hamstring) and George Farmer (hamstring), who both were sidelined this past Saturday, also participated in the entire practice session.
- Linebacker Hayes Pullard (knee) and safety Gerald Bowman (foot) suited up but were extremely limited. Sarkisian said that he is "relatively confident" that both will be ready by the end of the week.
- Fullback Soma Vainuku (hamstring) suited up but was also limited. Linebacker Lamar Dawson (knee) remained limited as well.
- Andre Heidari kicked field goals along with Alex Wood during the special teams period. Heidari has missed the last two games due to a groin injury.
- With a loud and spirited crowd potentially expected to be on hand in Rice-Eccles Stadium this Saturday, Sarkisian had crowd noise piped in during the Trojans' practice.
- With Pullard limited in practice, sophomore Michael Hutchings took his place with the No. 1 defense at MIKE linebacker.
- John Plattenburg and Leon McQuay III were the two starting safeties with Bowman sidelined during 11-on-11 periods.
- During the field goal period, Heidari connected on 3-of-3 field goal attempts, including a 47 yarder. Wood went 2-for-3, with his miss coming on a 47-yard attempt.
- Freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith blocked a punt during a special teams period.
- There was a large number of NFL scouts in attendance on Tuesday, including those from the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- Sarkisian said that the team will wear the new metallic-tinted helmets again this Saturday when they face Utah.
Garry Paskwietz: It was definitely the most dynamic game of the season, and I think a lot of USC fans -- and coach Steve Sarkisian -- would describe that dynamic element as the biggest missing piece of the offense to this point so by that standard you can say it was a breakout kind of game. You had Cody Kessler with his school-record seven touchdowns, you had a pair of running backs around the 100-yard mark and a pair of receivers who broke the 100-yard mark. That's a pretty good offensive night no matter who the opponent.
Johnny Curren: I think Colorado certainly was the breakout game that the USC offense was looking for. After all, just about everything clicked for Sarkisian & Co. Kessler threw for a school-record seven touchdowns, and both Buck Allen and Justin Davis shined on the ground. Still, it's important to take into account the fact it all happened against a Colorado defensive unit that has struggled throughout much of 2014. Because of that, I'm more interested to see if the USC offense can continue to find success against Utah this weekend, as well as through the rest of the schedule. If the offense does continue to perform at a high level, however, I think that everyone will point to the Colorado game as the moment when everything first came together.
Greg Katz: Yes, in terms of showing against a weak defense that the Trojans' offense can be balanced and the passing game can be vertical. We'll find out this Saturday night at Utah if the balanced offense the Trojans showcased on homecoming will be the same we see in Salt Lake City. A word of caution: The opener against Fresno State, with all its offensive fireworks, was an anomaly to a certain extent to what the rest of the season has been prior to playing Colorado.
2. What will be the biggest test on the road this week against Utah?
Garry Paskwietz: Keeping pressure off Kessler. The Trojans' young offensive line has shown growth in the run game lately, now they will get a test against a formidable pass rush that comes early and often. Sarkisian said the Utes' M.O. is to get after the quarterback, and with a nation-leading 5.5 sacks per game, it's pretty obvious that they do it well.
Johnny Curren: I think that the Trojans' biggest test will come up front on offense, as the USC offensive line is set to go up against an extremely talented Utah front seven that has the Utes currently ranking No. 1 nationally in both sacks (5.5 per game) and tackles for loss (10.2 per game). There's no denying the fact that Tim Drevno's young group has made tremendous strides as of late, but they're going to need to come up with their best performance yet in this one.
Greg Katz: To be able to match and sustain the physical aspect that Utah will bring on both offense (rushing) and defense (QB sacking). The Trojans showed at Arizona that they can survive in a major hostile environment. Utah could be the toughest test of the season thus far.
3. Will Allen end up in New York as a Heisman finalist this year?
Garry Paskwietz: To paraphrase a line from "Dumb and Dumber," I'm saying there's a chance. There is a pretty good group at the top of the Heisman pecking order that Buck would need to crack but if he can maintain his per game average, he would end the season with roughly 1,600 rushing yards and that would be a hard candidate to keep away from the Big Apple. There is certainly a long way to go before that can happen and a lot that would need to fall in the right direction but Buck has done his part to give himself a chance.
Johnny Curren: I do think Allen will end up as a Heisman finalist this year, primarily because he just seems to keep getting better and better. He's running with so much confidence right now, and he's so talented not only as a rusher, but also as a receiver. I think that his final numbers at the end of the regular season are going to be really impressive. Of course, one thing that will certainly play a part is what kind of record the Trojans have when it's all said and done. If they keep winning, he's going to start getting a lot more media attention. If they don't, his accomplishments risk getting buried.
Greg Katz: It all depends how he plays against UCLA and more importantly Notre Dame. Ask me today and I say, "No." Buck is having a wonderful season and will be rewarded come NFL draft time. However, he has not been given the preseason publicity push needed to be in the mix.
During the subsequent bye week, coach Kyle Whittingham opened up the competition and kept his decision quiet before Utah's trip to Oregon State last Thursday. Thompson got the start, but he struggled in the first half and was replaced by Wilson for the second half.
Neither quarterback performed particularly well in the Utes' 29-23 double-overtime win over the Beavers. Thompson was just 4-of-8 for 17 yards and an interception. Wilson was 5-of-10 for 45 yards. Neither quarterback threw a touchdown.
This time around, Whittingham wasn't waiting to name his guy.
"We think Travis' performance is a little bit better so far this season than Kendal overall," Whittingham said. "When you look at the numbers, it's very close. It's no different than when we came out of fall camp, with it being a tight race."
On the season, Wilson is completing 56.8 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Thompson is completing 59.6 percent of his throws with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Each has run for one score.
Whittingham didn't rule out the possibility that Thompson could see action against the Trojans.
The Pac-12 is loaded with talent at quarterback this season to the point where it seems like the conference is a hoarder and really good QBs are in abundance. But this is the way we like it. And the other conferences can keep hoarding whatever they like as long as the signal-callers stay west.
Every week we'll provide you with a power ranking of the conference's top quarterbacks, heavily considering the QB's most recent game.
Inactive Week 8: Arizona's Anu Solomon and Washington State's Connor Halliday.
For Week 7's rankings, click here.