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USC Trojans vs. Utah State Aggies Preview and Prediction

Max Browne

Max Browne

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USC began a new tradition in 2016. Rather than embarrass themselves off the field, the Trojans have opted to do it on the field instead. The abomination that was the team’s effort and preparation against Alabama is a direct result of the previous administration’s ridiculous need to recreate the past. Paul Hackett would have fielded a better effort than what USC put forth.

Alabama looked every bit the contender the defending national champions usually are. It wouldn’t have mattered where this game were played -- Bryant-Denny, the Coliseum, or White Hart Lane, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide were going to expose USC for what it is: a young team with a coaching staff that may or may not be up to the challenge.

It’s become exceedingly difficult to come to any other conclusion than completely blowing up any remaining remnant from the Pete Carroll era and starting over. Many will remark that this is an overreaction to one game; while one could easily argue those same voices are underreacting to the last five years of embarrassments on and off the field.

This may well be the only winnable game for the Trojans in the month of September if last week was any indication of how the season is to go. Should the Trojans lose to Utah State, it’s hard to imagine what new athletic director Lynn Swann will do. This isn’t a position in which USC is used to being in. The accumulation of talent simply doesn’t match the performance on the field, how the Trojans adjust that before Saturday is anyone’s guess.

With Stanford next week in Palo Alto and Utah the following week in Salt Lake City looming for USC, Utah State is primed for an upset if the Aggies can match their 2013 performance. Matt Wells is an extremely defensive-minded head coach and can game-plan for a vaunted USC offense. Running back Devante Mays and quarterback Kent Myers sure look the part, as well.

Utah State at USC

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. ET

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: USC -17

Three Things to Watch

1. Max Browne Must Improve

Browne came into USC as one of the most highly-rated prospects in the nation and then sat for his entire undergraduate career behind Cody Kessler. The problem is that he didn’t look like the guy most people thought he would be against Alabama. His numbers (130 passing yards, 0 TDs) aren’t going to beat a lot of teams when the Trojans can only muster 64 yards on the ground.

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Browne has the skills and the ability to light up a field. His arm is incredibly live and he has the height to see downfield. His frame makes him hard to take down, but he simply cannot play as timid as he did in Arlington. Browne must come out slinging, build some confidence, and get his playmakers involved early. If that happens, USC should be fine.

2. Do More on the Line of Scrimmage

It didn’t matter whether it was buying Browne time to throw or trying to create a running lane for Ronald Jones II or Aca’cedric Ware, USC couldn’t do it. That in and of itself might not have been so bad had the Trojans been able to control things from the defensive side; but they failed there too. Damien Harris did well as Alabama’s new No. 1 running back, as Nick Saban was surely pleased with his 140 yards. He also was probably pleased with the time his line was able to buy quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Blake Barnett without much of a struggle.

For USC, the vaunted offensive line trio of the 2014 recruiting class has never been able to produce half the magic they did in high school. Alabama is a tough test for any line learning a new system, but there aren’t many easy ones this month, so they will have to find a way to gel quicker. If the Trojans can buy Browne time, it also stands to reason that his completion percentage would be a bit higher as well.

3. Take the Game to Utah State

The Trojans no doubt had their pride wounded in Arlington. It’s hard to come away from a loss like that and not feel a little demoralized, but this is a team that has shown an ability to rally around one another and produce an outstanding performance. Utah State may look to be aggressive early, trying to put the Trojans into a “here we go again” mindset. The Aggies will try to get out to a fast start and take the USC crowd out of the game.

USC can counter this by pinning its ears back and sending more than Utah State can handle. There may come a point where Utah State scores, but if the Trojans keep applying relentless pressure to the Aggies, they’re bound to crack eventually. Saying it and doing it are two different things, but USC has the personnel and scheme to do it. This team is too talented to be losing 52-6 against Alabama.

Final Analysis

If USC was a stock, this article would have “sell, sell, sell” written somewhere at the top. The Trojans just have not proven any consistency since Pete Carroll left for the NFL. It’s nearly impossible to predict a Trojan victory in any football game without questioning yourself a dozen times. This is where USC is on a national level, many experts would likely agree.

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There will be a lot of trap game articles written on this one and they’re all likely to contain truths, but this is less a trap game and more of a fight for survival. A loss to Utah State and it’s hard to see this USC team having any confidence against Stanford or Utah. If the Trojans finish September 0-4, the rumblings are likely to start all over again. It is a trap game, but it’s the epitome of a must-win game, even in the second week of the season.

The fact that it is a must-win is why USC will likely lose.

Prediction: Utah State 35, USC 34

— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California.