The USC Trojans and Utah Utes battle for an important PAC-12 South showdown.

Two top-20 teams face off with conference championship implications. The #20 Trojans (5-2, 4-1 PAC-12) travel to Salt Lake City to face #19 Utah (5-1, 2-1 PAC-12) in primetime showdown Saturday, Oct. 25 at noisy Rice-Eccles Stadium.

USC is coming off a dynamic performance against Colorado Buffaloes last Saturday. Head coach Steve Sarkisian Cody Kesslerchallenged his quarterback to be more aggressive down field.

And how did Cody Kessler respond?

By setting a school record with seven touchdown passes (Matt Barkley previously held it with six), in a 56-28 rout on homecoming at the Coliseum.

The Bakersfield native finished 19-of-26 for 319 yards and zero interceptions.

The Trojans possess a well-balanced offensive attack averaging 35.6 PPG. Kessler has been impressive in the first half of the season with 18 touchdowns and only one interception with a 69.5% completion percentage.

On top of a steady air game, Southern California has a quality ground attack led by Javorius “Buck” Allen, who leads the PAC-12 in rushing yards per game (129.9) and four-straight 100-yard rushing efforts in a row including 128 last Saturday.

But the Trojans offense has a big test against a stiff and elite Utah defense.

The Utes are so stout up front that they post the best run defense in the conference with 2.85 YPC and have given up only three rushing touchdowns. Allen and the inexperienced USC offensive line (three true freshman in the rotation) are in for a tough night going up against a big defensive front that strive on getting after the quarterback.

Southern California’s young line has improved on run blocking but pass protection will be a much bigger task. Utah leads the nation in total sacks (33), sacks per game (5.5) and tackles for loss per game (10.2).

Nate OrchardThis group sacked UCLA’s quarterback Brett Hundley 10 times.

One guy to keep an eye on at all times is the talented senior defensive end Nate Orchard (right) who is the Utes’ leader on defense and ranks second in the nation in total sacks (10.5), tackles for loss per game (2.2) and sacks per game (1.7).

Utah has been a big surprise in the PAC-12 as they passed a big test with the statement win as a 13-point underdog on the road against UCLA.

The Utes’ lone loss came against Washington State (2-5) as 13.5-point favorites at home.

Kyle Whittingham will likely draw a similar game plan to one used by Boston College when the Eagles ran wild by confusing the Trojans’ defensive line.

Justin Wilcox and USC will focus on stopping the Utes’ running game as they average 210.7 YPG. Utah possesses a physical runner in transfer Devontae Booker.

The junior running back, who has gained 742 yards and seven touchdowns over the first six games of the season, is 19th in the country in rushing and second in the conference (123.7) behind Allen.

Since B0ston College, the Trojans defense has nearly stuffed the line, not allowing opposing backs more than 62 yards.

USC limited Arizona State and Arizona backs to a combined 108 yards (both average 200).

Additionally, Utah has superb special teams. The 2013 All-PAC-12 punter Tom Hackett is third nationally in punting (47.1 net) and PK Andy Phillips is fourth nationally in field goals (13 of 15) and sixth in scoring.

USC’s special teams coordinator John Baxter must pull a rabbit out of a hat as his group faces the electric Kaelin Clay who ranks fourth in the nation in punt returns and has returned three punts and kickoffs for touchdowns this year while striking the Heisman pose.

This game will certainly be won in the trenches and the key matchup is USC’s young offensive line versus Utah’s big and physical front seven.

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