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Three Storylines That Could Determine Winner Of Utah/USC Game

Utah Utes running back Devin Brumfield (6) gets tackled by USC Trojans cornerback Greg Johnson (9) and USC Trojans safety Talanoa Hufanga (15) during a college football game between the Utah Utes and The USC Trojans on September 20, 2019, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As they say, third time’s the charm. That’s what Utah is hoping for when they take the field on Saturday against the 20th ranked USC Trojans at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

After having their first two games against Arizona and UCLA canceled, Utah is expected to begin the 2020 season against the team that is projected to win the Pac-12 South Division.

Utah is attempting to win their third straight South Division title. According to the Pac-12 game cancellation and tiebreaker guidelines, the Utes are still in contention for a third consecutive appearance in the Pac-12 Championship game despite having their first two games canceled.

Here is the Crimson Corner’s three storylines that could determine the winner of Utah’s season opener against USC.

1. Shaking Off Rust Fast

When Utah takes the field on Saturday, it will have been 326 days since their last game, which was the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 31, 2019. Normally, Utah would’ve played a spring football game. In a normal season, the Utes would be entering the final 2 games of the regular season rather than just starting their campaign. That’s a lot of rust to shake off when college football players are playing their first game of a season at the end of November.

Another factor going into this game is getting the players back and up to speed this week for those that had to be isolated due to COVID-19.

It will take some time early on to get things going on both sides of the ball. With a young and inexperienced defense along with a new quarterback and running back group on offense, the faster Utah can shake off the rust, the better off they will be.

2. JaTravis Broughton/Clark Phillips III vs. Amon-Ra St. Brown/Tyler Vaughns

Sophomore JaTravis Broughton and true freshman Clark Phillips III will have their hands full with dynamic USC wide receiver duo Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns. The Trojans’ tandem combined for 151 receptions for 1,954 yards and 12 TD’s in 2019. This season, Vaughns and St. Brown have 28 combined catches for 336 yards and no touchdowns.

Between Broughton and Phillips, they have played 14 games (all Broughton) and have zero combined starts. As a competitor, you couldn’t ask for a better challenge than defending two NFL caliber receivers in your first college start. The matchup doesn’t favor Utah on paper, but that’s why you play the game.

During fall camp, Phillips worked hard to become the starting right cornerback. He will also provide value at the nickel back position as he received a bunch of reps early in camp at that position. The highest rated recruit in Utah football history is the backup to Malone Mataele at nickel back. Broughton has been talked about highly by the coaches as Utah’s No. 1 cornerback. A new era for Utah’s secondary begins on Saturday night.

3. Getting An Effective Pass Rush

After watching the first two games of the 2020 season for USC, it’s apparent that quarterback Kedon Slovis is a young pocket passer. Getting a pass rush on him, getting him uncomfortable and out of the pocket will be critical to Utah’s success.

The Utes have the pieces to accomplish that with Mika Tafua and Maxs Tupai as the returning veterans at the defensive end positions. Blake Kuithe, Van Fillinger and Xavier Carlton have not played a college football snap in their careers but have been standouts during fall camp.

If the Utes can get an effective pass rush on Slovis and flush him out of the pocket, it will make things easier for the young secondary, facing USC’s air raid offense.

Utah and USC will kickoff on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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