BYU and USC will meet for just the third time on Saturday as the Cougars host the 24th-ranked Trojans at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The game will be televised nationally on ABC and will kickoff at 1:30 p.m. MDT.
BYU is coming off an emotional win at Tennessee as Jake Oldroyd kicked a game-tying field goal to force overtime at Neyland Stadium. The Cougars ended up winning in dramatic fashion in double overtime, 29-26, to pick up their first win of the season. After what looked to be an 0-2 start to the season late last Saturday night, their is renewed optimism in Provo as the Cougars come into Saturday’s showdown with some momentum and an opportunity to knock off a ranked opponent at home.
Like BYU, USC has experienced a rollercoaster type of season so far as the Trojans lost starting quarterback JT Daniels to a season-ending injury in the first game of the season as the team held on for a 31-23 victory over Fresno State. After last year’s 5-7 season, losing Daniels had many thinking the Trojans were in for another disappointing season with Coach Clay Helton already on the hot seat. Yet, in stepped in Kedon Slovis as the true freshman threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns to lead USC past then-No. 24 Stanford, 45-20, and change the season around.
Date: Saturday, September 14
Time: 1:30 p.m. MT
Announcers: Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy, Tom Luginbill
Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470) — Provo, Utah
The Spread: USC -4
Money Line: USC -180, BYU +160
Like they have all season, the Cougars will be playing the underdog role for a third straight week as the Trojans come in as a four-point favorite. As of right now, 62% are betting on USC to cover the spread and a 50-50 split on the over/under at 56.5.
Both teams come in with plenty of question marks which is why the spread continues to stay pretty low as it has bounced mostly between 3.5 and 4.5. So far this season, USC has faced quarterbacks making their first career starts, which has allowed the defense to be aggressive and force plenty of turnovers in the process. But that will all change against the Cougars with quarterback Zach Wilson under center along with an offensive line that is very experienced.
The problem for BYU has been producing chunk plays and quick scores as the offense relies on long penalty-free and turnover-free drives to get into the end zone. Of course, this hasn’t happened much this year as the Cougars come in averaging just 20.5 points per game, which includes two touchdowns that were scored in double overtime last week.
We’ll know a lot more about these two teams after Saturday’s game. Here’s a look at the key matchups between BYU and USC.
Kedon Slovis vs. BYU Secondary
You couldn’t have asked for a better start last Saturday as USC true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis was absolutely sensational in his debut as the gunslinger completed 28 of 33 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns. Even more impressive, is the fact that the freshman didn’t even turn the ball over.
USC is all about chunk plays, getting playmakers in space and getting quick scores. The Trojansn have a talented receiving corps in Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Pittman Jr. who have already combined for over 500 yards and three touchdowns in two games. Now only will Cougars have to deal with USC’s speed, but BYU’s secondary is going to need to make a bunch of open field tackles — which it has always struggled to do, especially this season. According to BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, the defense has missed 41 tackles during the first two games of the season.
If BYU wants to knock off USC, the Cougars are going to need to play exceptional well on defense, especially making tackles in the open field and limiting the yards after catch to USC’s receiving corps which shredded Stanford’s defense.
BYU doesn’t have the explosiveness that USC has, but their defensive style of ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ has limited opponents to just 21 points per game when factoring out the two pick 6’s that Zach Wilson threw against Utah. The Cougars also held Tennessee to just 16 points before overtime too, so it will be interesting to see what happens as the Cougars go up against arguably the best offense that it has seen so far this season.
BYU Run Game vs. USC D-Line
BYU has done fairly well in the passing game as the Cougars are averaging over 200 yards per game. However, its BYU’s running game which has failed to take off as the team ranks 114th of out 130 teams in rushing offense at 99.5 yards per game. Wanting a balanced offense, the Cougars’ offense isn’t close to be what it needs to be, and without a solid run game, which can help setup chunk plays with play-action pass, teams can continue to make the Cougar offense one-dimensional and predictable.
BYU running back Ty’Son Williams, who transferred from South Carolina last year, is averaging 5.7 yards per carry so far this season to go along with three touchdowns. If Williams can have another breakout game and keep the Cougar offense from being one-dimensional, along with long sustaining drives, the Cougars will have a chance on Saturday.
While Stanford was ranked, I don’t believe the Cardinal will be as good as some expected this year as they had to replace nearly its entire offensive line, as well as it starting quarterback who went down with an injury in the first game of the season. USC looked good, however, its still too early to say whether the Trojans are “officially back” already.
Prediction: No. 24 USC 30, BYU 20
I see Stanford only winning six games this year, so I am not putting a lot of stock into their ranking last week and USC’s big win. At the same time, Tennessee hasn’t looked good at all this season as the Cougars struggled against the Vols. Both teams come in with a number of question marks, however, Saturday’s game will give us a good look at where these teams stand.
The good thing for Cougar fans is that BYU players and coaches now have film on Slovis. Stanford did not have that luxury. Also, the Cougar pass defense has been pretty stingy so far this season, giving up just 141 yards per game and ranking Top 20 nationally.
On the other side, USC’s pass defense can’t seem to stop much of anything through the air as the Trojans have given up 246.5 passing yards per game to rank 92nd overall in the nation. If Wilson can get into a groove and the offensive line can give the sophomore quarterback some time, fans could be in for a shootout at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Lastly, Saturday’s game could be a trap game for the Trojans as they host No. 11 Utah next week in what will likely determine the Pac-12 South championship. Will USC overlook BYU? I don’t think they will and I expect the Trojans to pull away in the fourth quarter. It doesn’t help either that the Cougars play better on the road than they do at home.
However, don’t ever count the Cougars out, especially after what we saw last week! But in order to pull off the upset, the Cougars are going to need to play a flawless game in order to have a chance to knock off USC. If the defense can get some early stops and rattle Slovis, who is making his first start on the road, the Cougars could get another storied win in back-to-back weeks. But, I just don’t see that happening.