Devin Kaufusi Lays Out Challenges, Advantages Utah Has Against USC

Dec 1, 2022, 11:14 AM
Utah Utes defenders wrap up a USC receiver (Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah football is back in the Pac-12 title game for the fourth time in five years – excluding the unique COVID-19 season in 2020.

Yes, the Utes had to have a lot of things go right to get back into the championship game but that doesn’t matter, they are back.

Utah is facing USC for the second time this year down in Las Vegas on Friday night at 6 p.m. MT in Allegiant Stadium.

Being to the title game multiple times and back to Las Vegas as well is a nice edge for the Utes, with the very least being familiar with the process of playing a game at Allegiant Stadium. That is something USC does not have.

Devin Kaufusi On Utah’s Advantages Over USC

Utah defensive lineman Devin Kaufusi knows that they have struggled a bit with the loss to Oregon recently but he told Unrivaled during his weekly visit that the loss is in the past and his teammates are ready for the Trojans.

“Whatever happened earlier in the season happened, but we worked our butts off to have this week and to win a championship again,” Kaufusi said. “Mentally, everyone is locked in and that is what I love about this team. We look ahead and what needs to be done day-to-day in preparation for USC in championship week.

“Everyone is stepping up and taking care of their 20-square feet and coming together to have something special here. I think last year was an awesome taste test of that and what it takes, so this year mentally this year everyone knows what it takes to go all out.”

The Ute players have the right attitude heading into this Pac-12 title game with so much on the line, and having been to this game before is an edge, even if just slightly.

This might seem silly but just knowing the ins and outs of Allegiant Stadium and having this be a repeat trip for a lot of the players and the coaches can make this seem more of a typical business trip.

Beating USC Twice

Utah is in familiar territory as last year as they need to beat the same opponent twice to reach their goal of going to the Rose Bowl. The Utes easily dispatched the Oregon Ducks just a few weeks apart, but USC is different.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham was bold and went for a two-point conversion to win the game, at home no less in a high scoring 43-42 win. Since that game, the Trojans have not lost – Utah is the only team to beat Lincoln Riley’s portal-assembled squad – while the Utes lost to Oregon and had a close win over Washington State.

All the shine and attention is on USC who is one win away from not only avenging their only loss this year but also the Trojans are looking to make its first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.

The Utes are banged up while the Trojans are coming into this game hot and want that win badly and Kaufusi knows that this game will be different and challenging, specifically for the defense.

“It is the end of the season so everyone’s beat up on our side and USC’s side,” he said. “Defensively, I know we have gotten a lot better the past five games and our defense is locked in. I am excited to see how everyone steps up and plays.

“Credit to coach [Morgan] Scalley, we went over the final standings and we topped out in nearly all categories for the Pac-12. Having that confidence of where we are heading into this week against Heisman hopeful [in USC QB] Caleb [Williams] and their high-power USC offense, it will be a showdown for sure.”

While the Ute defense is nearing the tops in every Pac-12 category, the Trojans offense is the mirror image by being near the top in most categories, including leading the conference in the most important stat of points per game at 42.5.

The Challenge Of Slowing Caleb Williams

The capital C challenge in this game is how will the Utah defense slow down the very likely Heisman trophy winner in Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams.

When Williams faced Utah back in October at Rice-Eccles Stadium, he had a classic game with 381 yards five touchdowns, zero interceptions, and 57 rushing yards. He was sacked four times by this Ute defense but those were hard-earned sacks.

Williams is strong, elusive, and moves well. Whittingham specifically pointed out how important it is to contain him and also take him down with a sack.

“Getting pressure with four is one thing, keeping him caged in is another,” Whittingham said of defending Williams. “You can get there, but you can’t sack him because he’s so elusive and strong too. He is so strong.

“So many defenders during the course of the season have dripped right off him because they can’t get him down. It’s not as much a function of how many you are bringing but trying to keep him in a cage and not let him get out on the edge. When he gets out on the edges, he’s dangerous.”

Kaufusi echoed those statements of pressure in reference to defending the best quarterback in all of college football.

“We were watching the Notre Dame film and he is complete and on a different level from any quarterback we have seen this year,” he added. “He is so complete on a high level and what he is doing with USC.”

The main key for Kaufusi and this Utah defense is to do its best in slowing down Williams and not allowing the big plays. There is no doubt that Williams will get in some explosive plays against Utah but the Utes need to limit those.

If they can do that then they will give the Utah offense a great chance to defeat USC for the second time this year and earn a trip back to the Rose Bowl.

Tune into Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 3-6 p .m. on 1280 AM and 97.5 FM, or subscribe to the podcast. Also, download the all-new KSL Sports app on iOS or Android.

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Devin Kaufusi Lays Out Challenges, Advantages Utah Has Against USC