The last time the USC Trojans played in Salt Lake City, Utah was in 1917—the Trojans won in a 51-0 rout over the Utes. Don't count on that happening again. Last year, USC hosted Utah and won 23-14 in a very tight game.
The Trojans will face the Utes on a Thursday night game airing on ESPN at 7 p.m. local time. USC, favored by 14 points, is coming off of a bye which doesn't bode well for the Trojans. Under Lane Kiffin, the Trojans are 1-3 coming off of byes
They're also dinged up with a big concern over the health of center Khaled Holmes.
If Holmes doesn't play, USC will somehow have to find a way to protect quarterback Matt Barkley against the Utes' front four. Winning the war of the trenches without Holmes will have meant the O-line figured out how to solidify the left side of the line, as well as the interior. Winning with Holmes is expected.
This game is the proverbial fork in the road for the Trojans. Win, and the Trojans gain confidence. Lose, and the future doesn't look rose-filled.
Barkley has shown he can win big games, but he has also lost some big games. Barkley is 0-4 against Stanford. 1-2 against Oregon. 3-0 against UCLA. 2-1 against Notre Dame.
Barkley's biggest game of his life starts Thursday. At Utah. Yes, really.
A solid win with an impressive running game will increase the team's morale. Not seeing Barkley flushed out of the pocket or on his back will give the O-line confidence. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee catching every ball, instead of inexplicably dropping balls out of their hands, will ease the pressure on Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal who have also had inopportune possession issues while carrying the ball.
Who will win? USC (-14) or Utah?
Increasing that +2 turnover margin is a momentum-changer for all teams. A great defensive play—like a big stop, turnover or a big hit—motivates the offense when it takes the field. Great defensive plays are also more visible to the team; too often a great block gets unnoticed by fans in the stands and reserves on the bench. But a big hit? Even kickers get pumped at seeing a running back get drilled by a linebacker.
This is what USC mojo is all about. That firing up. That camaraderie on the field and on the sidelines.
Utah is the catalyst for that mojo. Last year, the catalyst was the Trojans' loss to Arizona State. This year, USC came out somewhat flat against Cal after an unexpected loss to Stanford.
The Trojans have had two weeks to fuel their anger over that loss to Stanford—their 27-9 win over Cal didn't sell anyone that the Trojans were back.
A big win on the road at Utah?