Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#305 Utah -3.5 vs.
#306 USC 53
Friday, September 20, 2019 at 9:00pm EDT
L.A. Memorial Stadium, Los Angeles
Written by Nick Raffoul

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#305 University of Utah
#306 University of Southern California
3-0
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The USC Trojans will try to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss on a short week, as they prepare to host the No.10-ranked Utah Utes for a tough PAC-12 Conference showdown at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum on Friday night.

Despite USC’s most recent defeat, ESPN’s Power Football Index actually lowered Utah’s chances for pulling out a victory at home to just 42.1 percent. The Utes haven’t won a football game in Los Angeles since the historic Coliseum was built 103 years ago, but Utah has only visited the Coliseum four times since 1948. Can the Utes put an end to that streak with an eye-opening win on the road versus USC?

After USC’s crushing 30-27 overtime loss to BYU last week, head coach Clay Helton’s seat mightas well be on fire. Following athletic director Lynn Swann’s resignation, Helton’s future with the program has come under constant speculation and could be a distraction for his players for the remainder of the season. Helton lost a backer in Swann and the athletic department is expected to undergo a significant makeover in the near future.

True freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis looked overwhelmed at times in his first career start on the road, throwing three interceptions, including one in overtime that ultimately doomed the Trojans. He completed 24-of-34 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns to go along with his three picks, finishing with a QBR of only 54.0. Senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. finished with nine catches for 95 yards and two scores, while running back Vavae Malepeai rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort for the Trojans. Missed tackles and untimely penalties caused USC to squander a fourth-quarter lead before Chase McGrath’s 52-yard field goal with under two minutes left forced overtime.

This is supposed to be the year that Utah manages to breakthrough in the PAC 12. Prior to the season, ESPN’s Lee Corso chose the Utes to make the College Football Playoff, where he predicted they would defeat Clemson and earn a bid to the National Championship Game.

Utah was able to remain undefeated heading into PAC 12 play with a 31-0 victory over Idaho State, which catapulted them into the Top-10 in the current AP Polls. Despite a solid game last week, quarterback Tyler Huntley believes the Utes will have to “start faster” heading into the start of conference play. The 6-foot-1 senior threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns versus Idaho State last week and he’s completed 77.8 percent of his passes through three games this season. In a formula that’s adjusted for opponents, Huntley dropped one spot to No. 12 in ESPN’s Total QBR. In three games, Huntley has passed for 602 yards and four scores and he’s moved the chains with his legs as well, rushing for 99 yards and a score on the ground.

Huntley, Moss ready to inflict more damage on USC’s defense

One of the reasons for Utah’s fast start has been their ability to control the line of scrimmage and win the battle in the trenches. Utah enters the week ranked as the No.6 defense in the country, allowing just 9.7 points per game through the first three weeks. The Utes have not allowed a 100-yard rusher yet this year and they rank No. 7 in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 65.0 yards per game. Furthermore, their offensive line has yet to yield a single sack this year, giving Huntley plenty of time to survey the field and go through his reads.

Speaking of Huntley, the last time these two teams met, the Utes quarterback had a career day, throwing for 341 yards and four touchdowns. All eyes will be on the Utes’ quarterback and fellow senior Zach Moss, who ranks among the top running backs in the country three weeks into the season. Moss is tied for eighth nationally in yards per game (124.33) and sixth in total yards (373) with four rushing touchdowns. He’s eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with at least 10 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons and he finished with 136 rushing yards in last year’s matchup versus the Trojans.

“One of the challenges in coaching, you’ve got to keep the team on somewhat of an even keel,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in his Monday press conference.

“You want to play with passion and energy. … But you’ve got to play within the framework of the offense, defense without letting your emotions get the best of yo

Harrell laughs off idea that he did not call plays vs. BYU

USC got some good news earlier this week when five-star prospect Bru McCoy was spotted a practice, beginning his road back to the football field. The freshman wide receiver had been battling a mysterious fever that kept him from practicing with the Trojans during fall camp. The former No.1-ranked athlete and No.9-overall talent in the 2019 recruiting class, originally committed to USC at the All-American Bowl in January, but announced his intention to transfer to Texas following offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury’s departure to the Arizona Cardinals. However, after feeling homesick, McCoy re-entered his name in the transfer portal on May 31, subsequently transferring back to USC. His unique situation means that he’s had to apply for a waiver from the NCAA in order to be eligible to take the field this season, but there has been no update on the process to this point.

Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell laughed off the idea that he wasn’t calling plays in last week’s loss to BYU. Some fans had been skeptical about who was calling the shots in USC’s first loss of the season, especially after the offense failed to exhibit some of the properties of a typical Air Raid offense.

The noise has continued throughout the week for USC, as media pundits have already begun suggesting replacements for Helton following the team’s overtime loss to BYU. The team is entering a crucial three-game stretch that could ultimately decide his tenure with the program.

USC’s defense comes into the week allowing 409 yards per game, including 145 on the ground through their first three games. Opposing teams are scoring a healthy 24.3 points per game, but the team will need a repeat performance of their win over No. 23 Stanford if they are going to keep their streak alive against Utah at the Coliseum. In that game, they held the nationally-ranked Cardinal to just 335 yards of total offense, including only 98 yards on the ground.

“It’s not a lot of time to feel sorry for yourself,” Helton said, via the Los Angeles Times. “That’s what everyone was saying in (the locker room). ‘Hey, it’s one game, we’ve got to correct it and move on.’ We plan on doing big things this season and it’s early in the season.”

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The Trojans enters this game as 3.5-point underdogs at home, where they’ve traditionally had some good luck against the Utes. Crazy things always seem to happen when USC takes on Utah at the Coliseum. They blocked a game-tying field goal in 2011 and stopped a game-deciding two-point conversion to hold on for a win in 2017. Utah has covered the spread in four of the last five meetings in this series, but USC should have a chip on their shoulder following last week’s loss to BYU. They are basically playing for Helton’s job right now and won’t need any added motivation to pull off the upset. Expect this rivalry game to be a close contest and take USC to cover the number at home versus the No.10-ranked Utes on Friday night. 

Prediction: USC Trojans +3.5

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These two teams have gone over the projected total in each of the last four meetings. The Trojans have a prolific passing offense, and despite last week’s decisive interception, Slovis has been solid as a true freshman through his first two starts. The Trojans have enough playmakers on the outside to challenge Utah’s defensive backs and they should be able to move the ball down the field against a defense that has not been challenged often during the first few weeks of the season. Meanwhile, Huntley and Moss have had success versus the Trojans in the past and the Trojans’ defense will have their hands full trying to stop them once again here. Take this game to go over the projected total on Friday night. 

Prediction: Over
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Written By Nick Raffoul

Shortly after graduating with an Honors in Business Administration, Nick turned his attention from traditional stocks and bonds to investing in the performance of sports teams. And has now joined our team here at Winners & Whiners. Nick uses a combination of advanced stats and historical data to create sports investment models to identify value and generate consistent profits. Let Nick win for you.