Print and Go Back ESPN.com: USC [Print without images]

Friday, September 9, 2011
5 things to watch: Utah-USC

By Pedro Moura

1. The Pac-12 debut: Much has been said about it in the days leading up to this game, but this really will mean a lot to a lot of people. Conference commissioner Larry Scott will be in attendance at the Coliseum, along with many other dignitaries, and there will also be a ceremony prior to the game commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Linebacker Chris Galippo made a good point about another reason why the conference opener is important: Opponents prefer to watch film of teams playing within the conference, so they know exactly what they're watching instead of guessing about what the other team on tape is bringing to the table. Teams USC faces early on in conference play, like Arizona State and Arizona, will be watching this game film intently for weaknesses over the next few weeks.

2. The running back situation: Who's going to get the bulk of the carries for the Trojans this week? Any one of three players seem like fairly good bets, from starter D.J. Morgan to the no longer suspended Marc Tyler to the recently reinvigorated Dillon Baxter. If the past is any indication, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin will most likely just go with the hot hand, feeding the ball to whichever back is having the best day. But, at the same time, maybe he will show some loyalty to Morgan and give him the chance to establish himself early on without the threat of another player supplanting him.

3. Getting the freshmen in the game: Three true freshmen were supposed to play last week but never got in: Lamar Dawson, J.R. Tavai and Christian Heyward. If the same thing happens again this week, you can assume that the plan has been modified and that the Trojans now plan to redshirt them and preserve a year of their eligibility. Dawson, in particular, provides a lot of intrigue. At certain points in camp while he was subbing for an injured Galippo, he looked like he deserved to be starting right away in the Pac-12. At other points, not so much -- but the Kentucky native has tremendous potential, as evidenced by his pick-six off of Matt Barkley in team drills Thursday in practice.

4. Following up a record-breaker: Yes, Robert Woods broke the school record for receptions with 17 last week against Minnesota. Most everybody following the Trojans knows this by now. And Barkley also broke the completions record with 34. That's done and over with now. The question is how Woods and Barkley will follow up that opener and start to bridge the gap to the rest of the 2011 season. Woods won't catch 17 balls this week -- Utah's defense is too good and too smart to let it happen again -- but he could create advantages for his teammates by sucking up two defenders and opening up the field for the rest of them. And that brings us to perhaps the most important thing to watch in this game.

5. Who will join Woods as a top option for Barkley? You can argue it either way. Sure, Kiffin probably called a few too many plays for Woods in the Minnesota game. But he also didn't have very many alternatives, when most of the other players he was dialing up were inconsistent in catching the ball and in regards to route running. There are two primary candidates for players who could prove to be legitimate second options in freshman Marqise Lee and fullback/tight end Rhett Ellison. It's clear USC must get the ball in Ellison's hands more to be successful, and it seems like the natural progression for Lee is to get more and more involved as the weeks go on. This might be a perfect week as the Utes really key in on Woods.