Friday, October 25, 2013
USC hosts Utah with injuries on both teams' minds
LOS ANGELES -- Between NCAA sanctions and a dismaying spate of injuries, Southern California is struggling just to field a team for the second half of the season.
Utah is mostly worried about one injury to quarterback Travis Wilson, but he's determined to take on the Trojans on Saturday.
USC (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) is nearly out of healthy players at several positions with six games left under interim coach Ed Orgeron. Receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, the Trojans' three best tight ends and starting linebackers Morgan Breslin and Lamar Dawson are all unlikely to play or contribute much against the Utes (4-3, 1-3) -- and that's just the top of the injury list.
"Injuries are going to happen," Orgeron said. "We want to continue to be physical. We just have to be smart."
While USC scrounges for competent players, the Utes are hoping Wilson's sprained finger allows him to play effectively at the Coliseum, where Utah hasn't won since 1916.
The sophomore from San Clemente says he'll be ready for the Trojans' injury-riddled defense as Utah attempts to bounce back from last week's loss at Arizona.
USC took its first loss under Orgeron last week, falling 14-10 at Notre Dame in a penalty-plagued game featuring a scoreless second half. The Trojans hope a return home will focus their offense, but improvement will be tough with injuries at nearly every position -- except quarterback, where Cody Kessler remains optimistic USC can keep winning.
But Kessler is also realistic about the Trojans' options without Lee and Agholor, who might try to play even though they barely practiced this week. The quarterback spent time after practice this week working with the Trojans' walk-on receivers.
"They're going to have to play," he said.
Here are five reasons to watch the rematch of the first Pac-12 game ever played two years ago:
NO BODIES: After using just 48 scholarship players at Notre Dame, USC struggled just to practice this week in the absence of a huge chunk of its roster. Two straight seasons of scholarship restrictions -- and one more to come -- have depleted the Trojans' depth, although fired coach Lane Kiffin didn't make it any easier when he signed fewer players than his limit last winter, hoping to cash in next year. If the Utes want to exploit the Trojans' thin roster, they'll load up against tailback Silas Redd and dare Kessler to beat them downfield with his motley collection of backup receivers.
LINE DRIVE: USC's offensive line committed seven penalties at Notre Dame last week, and its struggles have contributed mightily to the Trojans' woes. Utah's defensive line is among its strengths, with pass-rushers Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly contributing to the Utes' 22 sacks already this season. But the Utes' run defense has been nothing special this season, ranking 61st nationally.
WILSON'S TURN: Wilson was in the stands as a spectator two years ago when the Utes lost the first Pac-12 game to USC. If Utah hopes to notch its first victory at the Coliseum in 97 years, the sophomore is likely to play a large role. He got hurt in the second quarter at Arizona last week, but Wilson intends to play against USC's secondary, which has also been shuffled by injuries. Wilson, the Utes' second-leading rusher this fall, has been a consistent performer in his two seasons at Utah, but he also has thrown 12 interceptions this season.
COACHING CLINIC: Orgeron will be reunited with an old friend when he matches wits with Utah co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson. Orgeron coached under Erickson at the University of Miami from 1989-92, winning two national championships together with the Hurricanes. Orgeron left Erickson's staff in October 1992 after a series of off-the-field problems. "They've got a typical Coach Erickson offense," Orgeron said of the Utes. "They have a philosophy that they're going to get at it."
HERE'S THE KICKER: The game appears to be a huge mismatch if it's decided on field goals. USC junior Andre Heidari acknowledges he's in "a funk" after missing two of his three field goals at Notre Dame, contributing heavily to the Trojans' loss and dropping to 6 for 11 this season. Orgeron re-opened competition this week for the job Heidari has held since he was a freshman. Meanwhile, Utah has one of the nation's most reliable kickers in freshman Andy Phillips, who made his first 11 field goal attempts this season before missing two at Arizona.