LOS ANGELES - Coming off a 5-7 season that ended with back-to-back losses to arch rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, USC's Clay Helton entered the 2019 season on the hot seat, one made a whole lot hotter last week with the firing of athletic director Lynn Swann and a sloppy 30-27 overtime loss at BYU. Whether Helton can survive or not will likely be determined during a tough three-game stretch starting with Friday night's home game against No. 11 Utah.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1. LINE: Utah -3.5
The Utes were the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 after winning the South Division last season and have done nothing to rebuff that expectation by cruising to easy wins over BYU (30-12), Northern Illinois (35-17) and Idaho State (31-0), holding all three opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. After that the Trojans have back-to-back road games at No. 21 Washington and No. 7 Notre Dame. That's a daunting task for any team much less one starting a true freshman quarterback, Kedon Slovis, who threw three interceptions in last week's loss to the Cougars but Helton believes the key will be how well the Trojan offensive line performs against a stout and veteran Utah defense loaded with NFL prospects. "I told our guys in the team meeting right off the bat, I think this is going to be a big man's game," Helton said. "I think whoever controls the offensive and defensive fronts will win the game."
ABOUT UTAH (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12)
Senior running back Zack Moss had 106 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against Idaho State, his 13th career 100-yard game, despite leaving midway through the second quarter, and needs just 196 more yards to break the school career rushing mark (3,219) held by Eddie Johnson (1984-88). Senior quarterback Tyler Huntley is 15-7 as a starter and has completed 42-of-54 passes for 602 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. The defense, which leads the Pac-12 and ranks seventh nationally in rushing defense (65.0), is led by a pair of returning first team All-Pac-12 linemen in Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu and second-team pick in John Penisini and two returning first team All-Pac-12 corners in Jaylon Johnson and Julian Blackmon.
ABOUT USC (2-1, 1-0 Pac-12)
Slovis, forced into action when returning starter JT Daniels suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 31-23 victory over Fresno State, was sensational in his first college start two weeks ago, a 45-20 win over Stanford that saw him complete 28-of-33 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns, but was error-prone at BYU, including being picked off in overtime to end the game. "He's a first-class kid and he listens and learns," Helton said. "What I was proud of him (Sunday), he walked in and said, 'Coach, I know I can play even better.' That's the type of kid he is and the type of team this is. There's no pointing fingers." Slovis has one of the nation's top wide receiving corps to throw to led by Tyler Vaughns (23 catches, 321 yards, one TD), Michael Pittman (21 catches, 205 yards, two TDs) and Amon-Ra St. Brown (14 catches, 139 yards, two TDs) while junior Vince Malepeai leads the rushing attack with 272 yards on 58 carries (4.7 avg.) and four touchdowns.
1. USC is 8-1 all-time against Utah in Los Angeles and has won the last eight in a row. Utah has never won in the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with the lone win coming 103 years ago in 1916 in nearby Fiesta Park.
2. Utah, which has turned the ball over just once in its first three games, is one of four teams nationally that has not allowed a sack.
3. Slovis, who had NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner as his quarterback coach at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., ranks fifth nationally in completion percentage (77.3 percent).
PREDICTION: Utah 27, USC 24
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