Utah State (2-1) at USC (2-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 21, 3:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607) -- Los Angeles, California. Television: ESPN 2. Home Record: USU 1-0, USC 1-1. Away Record: USU 1-1, USC 1-0. Neutral Record: USU 0-0, USC 0-0. Conference Record: USU 1-0, USC 0-1. Series Record: USC leads, 4-0.
GAME NOTES: The USC Trojans cap off a three-game homestand this weekend as they entertain the Utah State Aggies in non-conference play at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.
Already under the microscope just weeks into the 2013 campaign, USC head coach Lane Kiffin is again fighting for his job seemingly every time his team takes the field these days. Having to break in a new starting quarterback has made it that much more difficult for Kiffin this year, and that's one of the reasons why the Trojans stumbled in their Pac-10 Conference opener against Washington State on Sept. 7.
However, following that 10-7 home loss to the Cougars, USC bounced back a week later with a convincing 35-7 romp over Boston College, but still Kiffin remains on the hot seat.
The Trojans will have to dial up the offense again this weekend with Utah State coming to town. The Aggies have scored at least 26 points in each of their three outings thus far, the high-water mark coming last weekend in the home opener versus Weber State in a resounding 70-6 decision.
Winners of 18 of their last 22 games, the Aggies are in the midst of their best stretch since they produced a mark of 18-2-1 more than five decades ago. The four setbacks for USU during the current run have come by a combined 10 points.
The last meeting between these two programs took place in 1989 as the Trojans easily handled the action in a 66-10 decision, increasing their series advantage to 4-0 in the process.
First-year Utah State head coach Matt Wells, has the luxury of trusting his offense to quarterback Chuckie Keeton who is finally earning some recognition on a national level. Against Weber State, Keeton tied his own school record with five passing scores, with all of them coming in the first half this time around. Keeton, who finished 19-of-25 for 249 yards, has now thrown five TDs in back-to-back games and is the only player in school history to have tossed five scores in a game three times in his career.
As a group, the Aggies dialed up close to 600 yards of total offense versus Weber State, which means the group is now averaging a hefty 550.3 ypg, en route to 49.3 ppg, both of which are close to the top nationally.
Granted, Keeton hasn't played against the toughest competition the Football Bowl Subdivision has to over, but still it is hard to overlook his staggering numbers. Keeton has an efficiency rating of 187.74, thanks to a .781 completion percentage and 12 touchdowns, against only one interception.
Keeton has done a great job spreading the wealth, with four players having caught at least 10 passes and five registering a pair of TD receptions, keeping defenses on their toes if nothing else. With a team-high 187 rushing yards, Keeton is also a threat to break out of the pocket and create something out of nothing on his own, another reason why he can be such a tough player to contain.
Where the offense has been flying high for the Aggies, the defense could use a bit of a spark at times. After three games, the group has a total of only three sacks, half of those coming from safety Maurice Alexander who is also first on the unit with 3.5 tackles for loss. Considering the Trojans are fielding a couple of young, inexperienced passers, this would be the perfect time for the Aggies to compile some solid numbers on defense.
Speaking of USC quarterbacks, Cody Kessler settled in against Boston College last weekend and had a very strong outing, converting all but two of his 17 pass attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns, while Max Wittek connected on both of his passes as well. Standout wide receiver Marqise Lee had two catches for 90 yards, one of those going for 80 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown.
Running back Tre Madden contributed a game-high 102 yards and a TD on the ground as the team averaged close to 8.5 yards per play, compared to just 3.7 yards per for the Eagles who were held to 184 yards overall. However, even with the staunch effort versus BC, the Trojans are still giving up 359.3 ypg to the opposition and that should not sit well with the USC faithful.
Madden leads the ground attack on offense with 362 yards on 66 rushing attempts, the team generating 196.0 ypg rushing compared to only 43.7 ypg for the competition. But the real question is how well the quarterbacks will handle the pressure for USC as Kessler and Wittek try to establish themselves as the next big men on campus. The duo has completed 62.3 percent of their pass attempts with three TDs, but has also been picked off three times.
The Trojans may have one of the strongest run defenses in the nation right now, but that will have little bearing on this matchup as Keeton goes over the top primarily. USC may not be among the nationally ranked or even one of the top squads in the Pac-12, but still it would be an upset if Utah State somehow found a way to win on the road this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 27, Utah State 23
09/18 10:48:57 ET