- Johnny Curren, WeAreSC, Reporter
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USC (2-1 overall, 0-1 Pac-12) will host on Saturday a dangerous Utah State (2-1 overall, 1-0 MW) team. After losing to Washington State in Week 2, Lane Kiffin’s Trojans squad bounced back with an impressive 35-7 victory over Boston College last weekend. Meanwhile, the Aggies -- led by first-year head coach Matt Wells -- dominated Weber State 70-6, thanks in part to another outstanding performance by one of college football’s most exciting players, quarterback Chuckie Keeton. USU has won 18 of its last 22 games, and the Aggies have 18 returning starters back from last season’s 11-2 team.
Scoring: 49.3 points per game (No. 1 MW, No. 8 overall)
Rushing: 219 yards per game (No. 3 MW, No. 37 overall)
Passing: 331.3 yards per game (No. 2 MW, No. 15 overall)
Total: 550.3 yards per game (No. 1 MW, No. 12 overall)
Quarterback: No. 16 Chuckie Keeton (6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Jr.)
A Heisman candidate, Keeton is a dual-threat dynamo who directs the Aggies’ prolific spread attack, and he’ll present a unique test for a USC defense that ranks No. 4 nationally. Averaging 370 yards of total offense per game -- the No. 7 mark in the FBS -- he has completed 78.1 percent of his passes this season for 923 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one interception, while also leading Utah State with 187 rushing yards.
The Aggies haven’t received the same level of production out of this group that they did from Kerwynn Williams -- now with the Indianapolis Colts -- in 2012, but they do appear to be coming around. DeMartino is coming off a strong outing versus Weber State in which he ran for 105 yards and three touchdowns on just eight carries.
The Utah State offense has received some solid play from the wide receiver corps despite the fact it lost its top three performers from last season's squad. Van Leeuwen and Reynolds are the veteran leaders of the group, while Natson has a team-best 19 catches.
Tialavea leads this unit with seven receptions for 50 yards and two touchdowns -- both of which came in the Aggies’ most recent contest. Anderson also had a 56-yard touchdown grab in that game.
Offensive Line: LT No. 74 Kevin Whimpey (6-5, 295, Jr.), LG No. 54 Jamie Markosian (6-2, 292, Sr.), C No. 58 Tyler Larsen (6-4, 312, Sr.), RG No. 73 Kyle Whimpey (6-6, 310, Sr.), RT No. 66 Eric Schultz (6-4, 300, Sr.)
Returning all five starters from 2012, the Aggies’ offensive line has been a definite strength of the team in 2013, allowing just three sacks and paving the way for the nation’s No. 12 offense (550.3 yards per game). It will be interesting to see how they match up against a talent-laden USC defensive front seven.
Scoring: 18.7 points per game (No. 3 MW, No. 36 overall)
Rushing: 138 yards per game (No. 2 MW, No. 49 overall)
Passing: 148 yards per game (No. 1 MW, No. 13 overall)
Total: 286 yards per game (No. 1 MW, No. 13 overall)
Running out of a 3-4 set, the Utah State defensive line is a physical group that likes to eat up space to allow the linebackers to come in and make a majority of the stops. The leader of the group, Williams, has yet to play this season due to a foot injury, but Paul Piukala (6-5, 265, Sr.) has played well in his place.
The Aggies possess a pair of sturdy playmakers on the inside in Doughty, a 2012 first-team All-WAC selection, as well as Vigil. Doughty leads the team with 30 tackles after finishing last season with 109 stops. Fackrell is the one to watch on the outside.
While the Utah State defense currently ranks No. 13 against the pass, the secondary has had its fair share of lapses in the coverage department, and they have yet to record a single interception this season. Glover-Wright has flashed at times, but this could be a position group that USC quarterback Cody Kessler and Co. try to exploit.
Suite and Alexander have made plays all over the place, and they’re both currently third on the team with 17 tackles each. Alexander also leads the Aggies with 1.5 sacks.
Punter: No. 38 Jaron Bentrude (6-1, 209, Jr.)
Bentrude averages 41.1 yards per punt this season.
Kicker: No. 93 Nick Diaz (5-8, 182, Jr.), No. 36 Jake Thompson (6-0, 200, Fr.)
Nick Diaz has connected on 3 of 3 field goal attempts in 2013, and 13-of-16 in his career. Handling kickoff duties is Thompson, who has recorded 15 touchbacks on 26 kicks.
Kick returner: No. 8 Travis Reynolds (5-11, 180, Sr.), No. 4 Tay Glover-Wright (6-0, 175, Sr.)
Utah State ranks No. 15 nationally averaging 27.8 yards per kick return.
Punt returner: No. 9 Bruce Natson (5-7, 151, So.)
Natson ranks No. 2 in the Mountain West conference with a punt return average of 11.2 yards.