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Wednesday, October 3, 2012
What to watch: USC-Utah

By Pedro Moura

USC enters Thursday night's game against Utah in an interesting position, coming off a bye week but facing a so-called "trap game" before moving on to what could be a really intriguing game against Washington on Oct. 13.

We take a look at 10 things to watch.

The bye effect. As is customary in the Pac-12 preceding Thursday night games, both USC and Utah had byes last week and did not play. This game, then, would appear to provide an easy answer to this question: Which coach, Lane Kiffin or Kyle Whittingham, does a better job of keeping his players focused? The Trojans got smacked by Oregon coming off their bye in 2010 but recorded a nice win over Cal after their week off last year.

USC's commitment to the run. So, is USC really committed to running the ball, like it did against Cal last week, or are the Trojans just trying to pretend like they are to give their passing game more room? The fact that Kiffin mentioned the newfound emphasis at every opportunity over the last 10 days would indicate the latter, but Utah's going to have to at least pay some respect to Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal.

Robert Woods' productivity. Everyone around the team downplayed it over the bye week, but the fact that Robert Woods' numbers are down so significantly is an issue the Trojans are confused about. Look for Kiffin to try to get the ball to the junior receiver as much as possible this week, and maybe even stretch it out so he's not catching the ball near the line of scrimmage every single time.

Breslin's defender. Maybe the most exciting head-to-head matchup in the game will be at right tackle/left end, where USC surprise star Morgan Breslin will rush the passer against Utah true freshman Jeremiah Poutasi. Poutasi's a nice young player -- Oregon was on him throughout the recruiting process -- but Breslin has proved to be a wily vet in the Trojans' four games this season.

The Star. He's big, and he's going to trouble the Trojans. Utah's Star Lotulelei is an impressive space-eater. What is USC going to do to defend him? Good question. Whoever the center is, he's going to need help more snaps than not.

Holmes? About the center -- starter Khaled Holmes went down at the end of the Cal game with an aggravation of his ankle injury. He missed a game last time he got hurt, but the Trojans didn't have a bye that time.

A sold-out crowd? The last time USC faced a packed house of 45,000 fans on a Thursday night? You guessed it: Sept. 2008 against Oregon State. Sure, the crowd will be roughly half of what the Trojans turned out for their season opener, but if USC's last two games at Reser Stadium are any indication, small crowds in small spaces can get quite loud.

Salt Lake and cold weather. It's the first time the Trojans are playing Utah in Salt Lake in 95 years. Luckily for them, though, they're used to the cold weather, with recent cold-weather games at Colorado and Notre Dame to call upon. Game-time temperatures are expected to hover around 50 degrees on Thursday.

Middle of the stat pack. USC is fifth in the conference in scoring offense and sixth in total offense, third in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. Their other numbers hover around the 3rd-6th range, too -- in other words, not terrible, but not what you want if you're USC.

Third down woes. USC is 15-of-50 on third-down conversion attempts this season, numbers that put them 11th in the Pac-12.