Five years ago, a USC vs. Utah State match-up would have been a cupcake win for the Trojans. But now former coach Gary Anderson stockpiled and developed this team with talent, and even with him gone, they have ample talent to give USC a game. With junior quarterback Chuckie Keaton, our top rated senior center Tyler Larsen and NFL-worthy tackle Eric Schultz, they'll give Morgan Breslin, Dion Bailey, and the USC defense a challenge.
(JR) Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State, (#16), 6’2, 200
Keeton flies under most people’s radar mainly because of the school he plays for, certainly not because of a lack of talent. A third year junior, he’s already on the verge of breaking numerous school passing records and may end up flirting with the idea of entering the 2014 NFL draft. He has average size but he’s a dynamic athlete with a very strong arm. He shows the zip to squeeze the ball into tight windows and the touch to lay it over the top downfield between the boundary and the numbers. He runs a read option-heavy offense and going through progressions remains a big area of opportunity for Keeton as he tends to rely on his feet to pick up yardage rather than find his 2nd and 3rd reads. Still, he will be attacking a USC defensive backfield that really hasn’t been tested up to this point. He’s a true dual-threat who will test USC’s discipline at the line of scrimmage as well as downfield.
Tyler Larsen, OC, Utah State, (#58), 6’4, 315
Our top rated center, Larsen will face what will probably be his toughest competition of his career. He has prototypical size and athleticism for the position but his anchor will certainly be tested against USC’s interior studs. Larsen has been remarkably consistent executing assignments throughout his career and is considered one of the best technicians in the 2014 draft class. He also wins with disciplined angles as well as mobility at the second level to engage moving targets. His experience and leadership will be critical on Saturday as he’ll be making the line calls against a defense that looks much different than the 2012 tape they’ve seen.
Eric Schultz, OT, Utah State, (#66), 6’4, 308
A four-year starter, Schultz has experience at the guard and tackle positions. He projects best at right tackle in the NFL, where he will be lined up on Saturday. His strengths are in pass protection where he shows nimble feet when sliding and consistently shows sound hand placement. He’ll tend to bend at the waist, however, which will get him into trouble quickly against USC’s athletic front. Schultz is a very smart player who locates pressure quickly and plays to where his help is. His demeanor could also be nastier. There will likely be a ton of edge pressure on Saturday and he’ll see some of the country’s best pass rushers. This game could really help his stock. Right now he projects as a serviceable backup in the NFL.
Other Utah State Notes:
Senior cornerback Nevin Lawson (#1) is a three-year starter who projects as a fringe draftable nickel corner. He is a bit undersized but he is a very physical tackler and has speed to burn (recorded a 4.3 40 during spring workouts). He faces the tough task of defending USC’s duo of elite receivers but he matches up athletically.
Keep an eye on defensive end Connor Williams (#40). Physically, he’s an ideal 34 end who can take on doubles and set the edge against the run standing at 6’3 280. He’ll play an important role in opening up lanes for linebackers against a strong run offense. He is coming off a knee injury sustained 2 weeks ago but could emerge on scouts’ radar after Saturday.
Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC, (#91), 6’2, 260
Breslin will have his hands full defending against Chuckie Keeton and USU’s potent read option offense. He exploded onto the scene last year after spending 2 years in the JUCO ranks and is showing his versatility by making the switch to OLB in the Trojan’s new 3-4 defense this year. Breslin has had a strong start to the season but Utah State should test two areas in which he’s most questionable: coverage ability and edge discipline. He’s shown surprising coordination and agility in space but he’ll need to play with better instincts defending against Keeton’s arm and legs coming from the linebacker position.
(JR) Marqise Lee, WR, USC, (#9), 6’0, 195
The worst part about USC’s quarterback struggles is that it’s concealed the talents of Marquise Lee, arguably the most talented wide receiver in college football over the last two years. He broke out for a huge game last week against Boston College where we got to see his breakaway speed and ball tracking ability but questions remain about his focus seeing the ball into his hands as well as his ability to win 50/50 balls.
Devon Kennard, OLB, USC, (#42), 6’3, 260
Kennard never really had a true “home” in USC’s defense leading up to a season-ending pectoral injury last year. He’s finally coming into his own as an outside ‘backer in Clancy Pendergast’s new 34 defense. Kennard looks like he’s in the best shape of his career and seems faster than before the injury. The biggest difference between his 2011 tape and this year is his coordination and aggressiveness in space. It’s his quickness off the edge that makes him so effective in this defense, however. As with Breslin, his contain discipline will be tested.
(JR) Dion Bailey, SS, USC, (#18), 6’0, 210
This is another guy who has lined up everywhere on defense throughout his career. Lining up as a linebacker/rover hybrid in 2012, Bailey made plays all over the field but it didn’t suite his size and he would be exposed when teams ran to his side of the field. He’s moved to strong safety this year and he’s been outstanding, showing the speed to make plays in deep coverage as well as the read and react ability to fly up to make tackles near the line of scrimmage. Bailey is a fantastic athlete with top football instincts who can match up with receivers or tight ends.
Other USC Notes:
Silas Redd (#25) came into the season as one of the top senior running backs to watch but he’s been very slow to recover from a lingering knee injury and has yet to play a down in 2013. He’s undoubtedly one of the most talented backs in the country but serious durability concerns as well as past fumbling problems may actually keep him off draft boards for some teams. There is also a very good chance he takes a medical redshirt this year.
USC’s duo of Randall Telfer (#82) and Xavier Grimble (#86) are occasionally brought up in scouting circles as perhaps the best tight end combo in the country, but it’s not talked about enough. By season’s end, these two could end up as top 5-10 tight end prospects should they decide to enter May’s draft. They are big, physical, and athletic receiver types who are also coached up in the blocking game. It wouldn’t surprise me to see at least one of them declare.
The defensive secondary has a pair of draft eligible standouts in seniors Torin Harris (#4) and Demetrius Wright (#24). Harris is a cover corner who shows quick footwork in his transitions and is aggressive at the catch point. He’ll need to improve his angles to the ball however, and he is prone to guessing. Wright finally cracked the starting line up for the first time against Washington State and he’s done some good things from the free safety spot. He is long and athletic with above average coverage ability in both man and zone schemes. He hasn’t been tested too much downfield so his range will be something to monitor.