Utah and USC came into the season as the favorites to win the Pac-12 South and through three weeks of the season, these two appear to be among the best in the division.
The Utes made it to the Pac-12 Championship Game last season without quarterback Tyler Huntley or running back Zack Moss. Both are back this year and look as strong as ever. Huntley has completed 77.8 percent of his passes for 602 yards, while tossing four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Moss has added 373 yards on the ground and four scores on 57 carries. This is a ground-and-pound offense, which means it relies heavily on the offensive line and those big guys upfront have excelled in 2019. The Utes average 226 rushing yards per game and have not allowed a sack this season.
As good as the offense has been, Utah’s team identity is a hard-nosed defense. The Utes are top-10 nationally in scoring defense and total defense. This all comes after Utah lost its top four tacklers from a year ago, including linebackers Chad Hansen and Cody Barton, but the Utes are reloaded in the middle of their defense. Sophomore linebacker Devin Lloyd leads the team with 24 tackles in 2019, with senior linebacker Francis Bernard right behind him with 22 tackles.
USC opened the season looking to right the ship, but it appeared to be sunk when starting quarterback J.T. Daniels went down with a torn ACL in game one. Those worries, however, were temporarily halted when true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis looked like a seasoned veteran in his first career start against Stanford. Slovis set a USC record for passing yards by a true freshman in his first start by throwing for 377 yards and three scores against the Cardinal. But he came back to Earth last week as he threw three interceptions in a 30-27 overtime loss to BYU. The USC offense has dynamic playmakers at running back in Vavae Malepeai, Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp, as well as at receiver with Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Slovis just needs to get those players the ball and avoid mistakes.
Defensively, the Trojans have athletes all over the place, but have trouble with consistency. USC have struggled against highly mobile quarterbacks and Utah will present that problem in Huntley. The Trojans have had success stopping the inside run with their size and strength along the defensive line but need to be more consistent stopping outside runs. The USC secondary, nearly all new starters, have a budding star in safety sophomore Talanoa Hufanga, who leads the team in tackles.
USC has the talent and athletes to beat the Utes in a high-scoring affair, but if the game is played at the pace Utah wants to play, the Utes can make it tough on the Trojans.