Friday, 30 August 2013

The Roundup: August 30

About Last Night:

Utah 30, Utah State 26. This was a huge win for Utah. the bottom line for the Utes is that this was one of only a handful of games that it would be favored to win so they absolutely had to have it. What bodes even better for them is that they showed tremendous heart and character by overcoming a two possession deficit in the second half to beat a very talented team. Utah has some things to clean up defensively but they performed well in key situations like third down and in the red zone and that helped keep the Utes in the game while the offense was struggling to find its groove.

As for the offense, I was very impressed with Travis Wilson and the growth he seems to have undergone over the offseason. His strong arm was on full display as he threw for 302 yards on just 17 completions with no interceptions. He also showed his athleticism by scrambling for a key first down on Utah's game winning drive in the fourth quarter. There are a few concerns for Utah to address on offense as well. Starting receiver Kenneth Scott reportedly suffered a broken leg and will be out for the season and the Utes struggled to find an effective tailback. James Poole, Karl Williams, and Kelvin York all played significant snaps and got their chances to carry the ball (12, 12, and 10 carries respectively) but none averaged better than four yards per carry. Utah needs to find a reliable tailback who can keep them ahead of the chains and allow Brain Johnson and Dennis Erickson to call safe and conservative plays on early downs to set up shots down field later in drives. If Utah can develop a strong running game to help set up play action for Wilson to throw deep with his cannon arm, they just might score enough points to reach six wins after all.

USC 30, Hawai'i 13. This game was truly awful and I feel bad for anyone else who stayed up to watch the whole thing. USC is certainly no closer to knowing its starting QB after both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek were wholly underwhelming in one half of play each. Kessler went 10/19 for 95 yards with a touchdown and a pick while Wittek completed 5/10 for 77 yards. I would say Wittek looked slightly better as he led three scoring drives to Kessler's two and his numbers were victimized by a par of dropped passes on deep balls by Marqise Lee. Also, Kessler's interception was horrendous as he threw off his back foot with plenty of air space between him and the nearest pass rusher and threw wide and short of his target by about five yards in either direction, straight into the hands of the defender. Neither Wittek or Kessler looked particularly good last night but it's important to remember that while neither guy will be as good as Matt Barkley (at least not this season) whomever becomes the permanent QB will be better than last night.

Of course the Trojans' quarterback won't be able to look much better and if he can't stay upright. USC's offensive line looked downright porous last night, exposing the biggest concern on USC's roster. The major issue with the Trojans line is that they weren't letting guys through because they were struggling to communicate or because there was a lack of chemistry amongst their main five, it was because they collectively got straight up beat. I don't want to take anything away from Hawai'i's players but none of those guys would survive in the Pac-12. If USC's line is getting physically and athletically out manned by Hawai'i, how the heck are they supposed to hold up against Arizona State, Stanford, or UCLA and their future NFL D-lines? if USC replicates that performance again against any other opponent on the schedule aside from Washignton State, Boston College, or Colorado, they will lose. To make matters worse, due to scholarship sanctions and a few misses in recruiting, what you saw last night is basically all the Trojans have. If USC's starting five can't get it figured out, then this team is done because no one else is walking off the bench to save them.

The defense did look markedly improved as the Trojans defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage led by Devon Kennard who has finally found a home in Clancy Pendergast's system. Kennard started out as a middle linebacker (which made no sense at the time and looks even stupider now), moved to defensive end and struggled there too, but now looks like he's finally ready to flourish at outside linebacker. Kennard was all over the field and had two of USC's seven sacks. Hayes Pullard also looked really good as he seemed reinvigorated by the new system. he had a really nice freshman season in 2011 but drastically regressed last year. he definitely looked solid as did Dion Bailey who has found a nice fit at safety along with star freshman Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw. Corner is a huge concern as Hawai'i's receivers seemed to be getting free down the sidelines all night only Hawai'i QB Taylor Graham was not good enough to deliver the ball. Graham finished 16/41 which is great for USC's defense since they haven't forced an opponent into a stat line like that for years but they also shouldn't let it go to their head. All four of USC's interceptions were unforced errors as three of them were under thrown balls straight to defenders and the other was tipped off the hands of a receiver.

At the very least, USC's defense played competently and finally showed an ability to put its talented players in the right positions to succeed which they haven't done in four years. However, the Trojans need to shore up their cornerback play because unlike Graham, most of the passers they'll see in conference play will be able to deliver the ball to wide open receivers.

About Tonight:

Northern Arizona at Arizona, 7:00 PM on Pac-12 Network. Line: Arizona (-31)

The Wildacts kickoff their season with a nice easy patsy to help break in all their new bodies on offense. I think BJ Denker will ultimately be the man at QB for Arizona but it'll be interesting to see how much play Jesse Scroggins, and/or Khari McGee, and/or Javelle Allen and/or Anu Solomon get and whether any of those men can mount a serious charge at Denker. I also want to see who steps up in Arizona's receiving core. 1200 yard man Austin Hill is out for the year with a knee injury and the 'Cats need someone else to step up and become a go to guy to help their new QB along. Given the new QB and the questions at WR, expect plenty of carries for Ka'Deem Carey tonight and throughout the year as he looks to lead the nation in rushing yards once again.

I'm also looking to see some improvement form Arizona's defense. They still won't be very good because they are woefully undersized but they should at least know what they are doing given that it's their second year in Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 system. I don't know much about Northern Arizona other than its an FCS school without much talent but given the turnover on Arizona's offense and its defense being just bad enough to allow a few scoring drives against anyone, I'll take the points and say Wildcats 52, Lumberjacks 24.

Record against the spread: 1-1

Record straight up: 2-0

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