In the last three years, Utah has four more wins than USC. The Utes have won at least 10 games a season for the past three years, including an undefeated season in 2008. From 2003-2009, they won seven straight bowl games. They have played in a BCS bowl game just as recently as USC has.
Needless to say, the Trojans are not taking Utah lightly.
“You don’t have a staff like they do with so many 10-win seasons and be intimidated” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “There’s gonna be no intimidation factor. And anytime that you play like we did last week and let a team hang around the way we did, that doesn’t intimidate people.”
The most noticeable member of that Utah coaching staff is offensive coordinator Norm Chow.
Chow served as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator from 2001-2004. He bolted for the NFL in 2005, but he returned to the college ranks in 2008 as the offensive coordinator of UCLA.
Chow is known as a coordinator who runs a West Coast offense, a sharp contrast to the spread attack that Minnesota threw at the Trojans last week.
“Obviously they are a lot more similar to our offense than Minnesota was, a lot more conventional,” senior linebacker Chris Galippo said. “A lot of play action, throwing the ball downfield. Zone runs — stuff like that. Their quarterback is not a runner but he’s still mobile. They have two good backs, a lot of fast receivers, a good O-line. So we have our work cut out for us.”
But Kiffin admitted that it’s easier to game plan for Chow’s pro-style than Minnesota’s spread.
“The preparation for our defense is a lot easier,” Kiffin said. “Doesn’t mean we’re gonna be successful, but it’s just easier because we know it better and we’re used to playing against it. But then again they’ve had all offseason to practice different stuff they might not have necessarily shown in their first game.”
According to junior quarterback Matt Barkley, however, the Utah defense isn’t quite as conventional as its offense.
“They’re a fast team who flies around and they’ll bring a lot of pressure,” Barkley said. “Their head coach [Kyle Whittingham] is a defensive coach who likes to get after it. So we’re gonna have to be on top of our game with our protection and our routes and getting the ball out quickly.”
Removed from all the strategy and game planning is the significance of the game itself. It’s the first in Pac-12 history, yes, but Kiffin also saw a different motivator.
“From the way people talk about the game it’s a really big game for them,” Kiffin said. “All the smaller schools are rooting for them, now they get a chance to come into a major conference and show themselves every week. I’m sure its major motivation for them.”
Utah is a newcomer to the Pac-12, and to a BCS automatically qualifying conference, having previously played in the Mountain West.
“Yeah it’s the first Pac-12 game,” Barkley said. “It doesn’t really mean anything to us though, we’re just preparing like it’s any other game.”
It was Barkley’s 21st birthday Thursday, and the team sang “Happy Birthday” to him at the end of practice. The quarterback said he had no big party plans.
“Dinner with the family,” Barkley said. “We’ve always had a tradition of birthday dinners. Whether it’s a big 21st birthday or a lame old 19th birthday, we do all of them. So they’ll come up and I’ll have a meal with them. But no big plans … probably just watch game film.”