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USC’s Offense Steps Up Against Utah

The Trojans’ opportunistic offense capitalized on great defensive play

When a defensive player gets three interceptions in a game, one would think he would be the star of the game. Let’s be honest, though, in the ultimate team sport, an individual effort like that is just a piece of the puzzle.

True freshman linebacker Cameron Smith picked off Utah’s QB Travis Wilson three times, taking one back to the end zone, and helping USC beat No. 3 ranked Utah on Saturday night, 42–24. However, the true freshman’s effort only directly accounted for six of USC’s 42 points.

Where did those other points come from?

Don’t tell the experts, but they came from the USC offense that was supposed to be shut down by the stout Utah defense. On paper, it isn’t difficult to see why a majority of the nation was astounded when the Trojans came into the game as 3.5-point favorites.

Utah came into the game leading the Pac-12 conference in forced turnovers (3.2) and rush defense (113.5 rushing yards per game.) Not only that, they were also holding opponents to 19.5 points per game and had intercepted the ball eight times in the past three games.

The Ute’s defense was poised to have a big game against the Trojans, as USC quarterback Cody Kessler had thrown five picks in the previous three games. Yet things didn’t go precisely the way the Utes hoped the game would go.

Daniel Tran/Annenberg Media

Kessler was able to find his rhythm, connecting on 21 of his 28 pass attempts for 264 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he made good decisions and did not turn the ball over to give Utah any extra possessions.

It was an impressive feat given that USC was missing three of their top four wide receivers. Issac Whitney was out with a collarbone injury, Darreus Rogers missed the game with a hurt hamstring and Steven Mitchell Jr. was unavailable for the second straight game due to an ankle ailment.

The Trojans also started Adoree’ Jackson at wide receiver for the first time this season. Though he was only able to gain 37 yards on six receptions, his presence and speed on the field helped open things up for the rest of the offense.

“You have Adoree’ in the slot, you have me on the outside and you’re going to play man [coverage]? That’s kind of disrespectful,” USC wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster said.

Smith-Schuster continued his productive season, catching eight balls for 143 yards and a touchdown. On one play, he appeared to call out Utah cornerback Dominique Hatfield, who attempted to tackle down, before throwing a vicious stiff arm that knocked the hapless Hatfield out of bounds.

“[Hatfield] is probably the kid that talks so much trash in one game,” Smith-Schuster said. “It just got to the point where I’m like, ‘OK, I’m about to embarrass you.’”

It is that kind of competitive nature and toughness that was present all night on the Trojan side of the football.

The running game was able to muscle their way against Utah, finding multiple holes to exploit. Despite starting running back Tre Madden being out with a sore knee, Justin Davis and true freshman Ronald Jones II combined for 139 yards on the ground.

As a unit, the Trojans’ rushing attack combined for four touchdowns. The offensive line was able to get consistent leverage against the Utes and the tailbacks were able to stretch the defense out in order to find running lanes.

“We knew they were aggressive, big and stiff, so we could go around them,” Davis said of the Utah defense. “We had a lot of runs to the outside where we used our speed to our advantage, and they couldn’t catch us.”

USC’s defense gave the Trojans an opportunity to win, but it was the offense that was able to capitalize on their chances and finish the job against one of the top-ranked defenses in the Pac-12. Heading forward, they will need the offense to continue producing in this manner if they want to turn this season around.

You can reach Daniel Tran here, or follow him on Twitter @DanTranCA

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