USC’s strong showing vs. Colorado has the Trojans primed for their visit to Utah

Utes need a homecoming victory to tie USC in the Pac-12 South standings.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) celebrates his touchdown with Utes offensive lineman Jackson Barton (70) as the University of Utah hosts the Arizona Wildcats at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Friday Oct. 12, 2018. Utah leads 28-0.t

While the Utah Utes rested Saturday, the rest of their schedule became more demanding.

That's especially true in the case of their next opponent. USC statistically dominated Colorado in a 31-20 victory, leading into the Trojans' visit to Rice-Eccles Stadium for Utah's homecoming game Saturday.

Of the remaining teams on Utah’s schedule, only Colorado lost this past weekend. USC, UCLA, Oregon and BYU won, and Arizona State was idle.

The Utes (4-2, 2-2 Pac-12) enjoyed an extra day’s break after Friday’s 42-10 win over Arizona, bringing them to the halfway point of their season. The second half starts with a potential championship game in the Pac-12 South. That phrase also may apply to Utah’s contest at Colorado in November, or so the Utes hope.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utes linebacker Chase Hansen (22) and Utes defensive back Marquise Blair (13) looks to tackle Arizona Wildcats quarterback Jamarye Joiner (10)as the University of Utah hosts the Arizona Wildcats at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Friday Oct. 12, 2018.

USC is 3-1 in conference play. A victory Saturday would give the Trojans a two-game lead over Utah. If the Utes win, they’ll be tied with USC and own the tiebreaker.

Updated after Saturday’s results, ESPN’s Football Power Index slightly downgraded Utah’s season forecast from 8.6 wins to 8.5 wins.

The Utes have reoriented themselves to the running game offensively and pride themselves on stopping the run. Yet the outcome vs. USC could be determined through the air. USC freshman JT Daniels overcame a slow start against Colorado by passing for 272 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll face a Ute secondary that has allowed significant yardage in the past three games and hurt itself with penalties.

USC’s defense held previously unbeaten Colorado to 265 total yards. Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley, meanwhile, has produced “back-to-back outstanding performances,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. In wins over Stanford and Arizona, Huntley went 31 of 40 for 400 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception.

“He's just a fierce competitor,” Whittingham said. “He's a true student of the game; he's always in the film room, preparing.”

Huntley is 10-6 in two seasons as a starting quarterback, including 4-6 in Pac-12 play. He gets credit for a 2017 win at Arizona, although he was injured early in that game. Huntley then missed losses to Stanford and USC last October.

His signature win is a recent 40-21 victory at then-No. 14 Stanford, clinched by his 57-yard touchdown pass to Samson Nacua after he escaped the rush. Beating the Trojans would top that achievement, just because of the game's value in the South race.

Zack Moss' rushing success with a total of 228 yards on 35 carries in the past two games has opened up Utah’s passing game, and Huntley and his receivers have done their best work of the season. More of that efficiency will be needed against USC.

Utah vs. USC

Saturday, 6 p.m. 

TV: Pac-12 Networks