There are few venues as exciting to play in, or attend a game at for that matter, as the University of Southern California's Coliseum. The Utah State Aggies are not coming in as wide-eyed tourists, though; the Aggies have an upset in mind.
Not that it will really be an upset, should it occur, to those of us familiar with Utah State's brand of football the past couple of years. USU comes into this week flying high after annihilating Weber State last week by a trifling 64 points... Coach Wells was feeling kind, I think, and didn't want to run up the score. The Aggies are coming into this game with the 8th ranked scoring offense in the country, scoring just over 49 points per game, the 15th ranked offense in terms of passing yards at 331 yards per game, and are ranked sixth in total yards at 550 yards per game. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton is currently one of the top QB's nationally in several categories as well: 10th in passing yards (923), 5th in completions (82), 3rd in completion percentage (78 percent), 10th in QB passer rating (187.7), and he is tied for 1st in the country in most TD passes (12). Also, with Keeton at the helm, the Aggie offense has a perfect record in the red zone, going 16 times into the red zone with 14 touchdowns and 2 field goals. Needless to say, the Aggie offense has the tools to succeed, and knows how to use them.
Geared up to stop them is the Trojan defense, which has been dominant in its first three games. USC boasts the 8th ranked defense for points against, holding opponents to 10 points per game, the 2nd ranked run defense (44 rushing ypg), and 4th ranked defense for total ypg (212). USC also has the 2nd most sacks of any team in the country, averaging 4 sacks per game, and are ranked 6th in interceptions and tackles for loss. They need to continue that success and pressure Keeton all night long if they hope to stop the Aggie offensive juggernaut. Containment will be key, as Keeton has rushed for 187 yards this season by himself, over fifty more rushing yards than USC has allowed all three of their opposing teams combined.
The Trojan offense has been less than spectacular thus far, rushing and passing for 359 yards per game, but only scoring 24 points on average. USC certainly has the talent to be much more successful offensively, but a lack of consistency at the quarterback position has disrupted the offense's rhythm, and kept them from getting any real flow in their play. Wide receiver Marqise Lee is one of the most talented receivers, perhaps the most talented receiver, in the country, and yet has been held to a single TD catch in three games; Washington St held him to 4 yards per catch average on seven receptions. Head Coach Lane Kiffin has used two quarterbacks each game with Cody Kessler and Max Wittek. Kessler, who will start against the Aggies, appears to be the favorite, taking all but two snaps against Boston College. Greater continuity at the QB position will only help USC's offense; you can expect to see greater offensive production from them against the Aggies this week.
Utah State is ranked 36th in scoring defense, holding opponents to just under 19 points per game. The linebacker corp is the highlight of the defense, disrupting the run and pass games alike. The defensive line is solid, even without Connor Williams, a returning starter from last year who is out with a foot injury. The defensive backs are the possible weak link in the defensive chain, despite rating 13th in the country in pass defense efficiency. The rating is deceiving after playing Air Force, who only threw the ball 18 times in 67 plays. The loss of NFL corner Will Davis has been hard for the Aggies to deal with, and the secondary has been caught out of position several times. Game experience against light-weight opponents the past couple weeks hopefully helped get some less experienced players up to speed.
The betting line started with USC being favored by seven points at home, but you can expect that line to drop, as the Aggies come in looking for their first signature road win over a BCS conference opponent. The Aggies beat Utah last year in overtime, but the game was played at USU's Romney Stadium.
The past four years, Utah State has come closer each year to making that key step in claiming a more permanent place in the upper echelon of collegiate football: in 2009, the Aggies lost to Texas A&M by eight (30-38); in 2010, they fell to Oklahoma by seven (24-31); in 2011, they gave the away game to Auburn and lost by four (38-42); and last year, a slipped field goal in the final seconds cost them the game at Wisconsin, whom they lost to by two (14-16). With Utah State looking to keep the pattern going, USC had better come ready for a fight, because unless the Aggies lose by one, an upset is in order for the visitors this weekend.
This game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on ABC in the West or ESPN2 in the East.
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