With the way Arizona State lit up Utah’s defense, imaginations can run wild at what USC, which boasts one of the best offenses in the nation, might do to the Utes when the teams clash in Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday.
However, Utah’s defenders are bound and determined to not experience another huge blowout — even if it is Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee, Robert Woods and Silas Redd coming to town.
“We are ready for everything,” safety Eric Rowe said. “Everything they throw at us, we are ready. We have schemed it all, have it all planned out, so nothing is going to work against us.”
Utah fans can only hope the Utes’ defense can play as confidently as Rowe speaks.
If the Utes don’t, USC could light up the scoreboard like a pinball machine. The Trojans offense’ has surprisingly struggled this year, ranking just fifth in the Pac-12 and 44th nationally in scoring.
But USC is still averaging 33 points a game, and the Trojans’ explosiveness is a worry for the Utes. They certainly don’t want to be the team that lets USC’s offense bust out in a big way.
“We know it’s going to be a challenge but we have good schemes and we hustle,” safety Brian Blechen said. “It’s going to come down to the big plays and who can capitalize on them.”
Utah’s defense has been uncharacteristic in giving up big plays this year, particularly against ASU, which scored three touchdowns in the first quarter.
However, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham defended his defense following the loss to the Sun Devils, saying he believed it was simply one bad half and not indicative of the Utes’ defensive ability.
Thursday’s game represents a chance for the Utes to back up their coach’s vote of confidence with solid play.
The Utes have made a change at cornerback, moving Reggie Topps into a starting role in place of Moe Lee, and will get a boost by having Rowe return to the lineup after he missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.
But even a healthy lineup will be pushed to their limits by USC, which has one of the best receiving tandems in the country in Lee and Woods.
Lee leads the Pac-12 averaging 10 catches and is third averaging 114.25 yards a game. Right behind him is Woods, who is averaging 6.25 catches and 50.8 yards a game.
“A lot of weeks you can double cover a team’s premier receiver,” Whittingham said. “But when you have two stars like that, it spreads you thin. It’s going to be challenging from that respect. You can’t give all the attention to one, or the other will do the damage. You have to be fairly balanced in how you defend them.”
The Utes mixed in some zone coverage against ASU, but believe they can stick to their traditional man coverage against the Trojans.
Such a plan could expose the Utes to some big USC plays — but it could also help the Utes regain some of their national reputation if they can shut down Lee and Woods.
A closer look at USC’s top two receivers this season:
Robert Woods, 6-1, 190, Jr., left
Opponent Rec Yrd TD
Hawaii 6 42 2
at Syracuse 10 93 2
at Stanford 4 38 0
California 5 30 0
Marqise Lee, 6-1, 195, So., right
Opponent Rec Yrd TD
Hawaii 10 197 1
at Syracuse 11 66 3
at Stanford 8 100 0
California 11 94 2
USC at Utah
P Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • ESPN