Three Things To Watch: No. 7 USC Vs. No. 20 Utah

Oct 14, 2022, 12:22 PM | Updated: 1:04 pm
Cam Rising - Utah Utes - USC Trojans...
Cameron Rising #7 of the Utah Utes breaks the tackle of Nick Figueroa (50) of the USC Trojans as he scores on second half touchdown run during a college football game against the USC Trojans October 9, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY- No. 7 USC is coming to Salt Lake City this weekend undefeated so far in the 2022 season, while No. 20 Utah is fresh off a painful loss and looking to rebound. If the allure of a Top 25 matchup in a series that has typically been very entertaining isn’t enough to keep you glued to your seat, perhaps the side stories in this game will.

The Utes will be wearing their annual hand painted helmets for the Trojans with this year’s theme being “22 Forever” in honor of the late Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe. Both Joran and Lowe’s families will be in attendance. Adding to the intrigue, USC plays a fairly significant part in the interwoven stories of Jordan, Lowe and Utah football. The Trojans were Jordan’s first collegiate opponent, they were also the first opponent Utah took on after Lowe’s shocking death. Jordan’s position coach at Utah, running back coach Kiel McDonald is now with USC and will also be there for the tribute.

With the stage set, here are three things to watch as the Utes prepare to take on the Trojans at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The “It” Factor

Look, Utah has been pretty good, but hasn’t quite lived up to the expectation of what most thought their 2022 season could be. The Utes still have a chance to redeem themselves to some degree even with the College Football Playoff now off the table by repeating as Pac-12 Champions and going to the Rose Bowl again. It has to start this Saturday though.

This is a hard “thing to watch” to really describe well, but for lack of a better term this 2022 squad has lacked that “it” factor that makes good to great teams really standout. Utah has played just fine, and they have won most of their games quite convincingly, but something has just been missing. While the Utes have played hard, they also haven’t gone into any of these games with fire, passion- that extra something that makes everyone stop and go “whoa”.

Saturday’s game is the perfect opportunity to get “it” back between the tribute and playing one of the best teams in the country.

The Front Seven

This is the part of the team that has felt the most baffling. Utah is easily one of the best teams in the country in the front seven, but it’s been a bit of a struggle this year. The guys aren’t getting the kind of pressure and stops fans and pundits have become accustomed to over the years.

A big part of this is youth and not having a lot of senior leadership to help take ownership of the group. Utah needs these guys to mature in a quick way. Head coach Kyle Whittingham has also mentioned several times that as coaches they have to do better at teaching everyone what they need them to be doing as well.

USC doesn’t rely on the run as much as some of the other teams the Utes have faced to this point, but they also shouldn’t be taking running back Travis Dye lightly either. Can Utah’s front seven keep Dye in check while pressuring quarterback Caleb Williams into uncomfortable situations?

Managing Emotions

This week is heavy on the more intangible elements of the game that often get overlooked for actual head-on matchups and what the stats are saying, however, they are just as important if not more.

In 2021 we all witnessed Utah football manage heavy emotions masterfully after the loss of Jordan and Lowe, fueling them to win and win big. The wounds have begun to heal in 2022 but playing a game that you are specifically dedicating to Jordan and Lowe will surely has to bring up a lot of raw emotions.

Can this team which consists of many of the same players, manage those emotions in a way that helps them, rather than hurts them? To me, the psychological parts of this game will play a big factor in who comes out on top.

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