The USC Trojans did not play well last week. Might as well address the question I asked at the very beginning of last week's preview of the UCLA game. With the Trojans getting an extra week of practice and preparation because their game with Cal was postponed due to COVID-19, "That means there won't be any excuses and the team will play well, right?"
They did not play well, and there were plenty of excuses. All of this is to say that USC (4-6, 3-5 Pac-12) is looking at back-to-back seasons without a bowl game, and that's something that hasn't happened to USC — not counting their bowl ban — since 1999-2000. The Trojans must beat BYU (9-2) on Saturday and Cal next week to even have a shot at a bowl game, and they're likely to be the underdog in both games. But let's take a look at the keys to the game.
BYU at USC
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 27 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: BYU -7
When BYU Has the Ball
The Cougars have one of the best talents in the nation at quarterback in Jaren Hall. On the year, Hall is completing 64.0 percent of his passes for 2,307 yards, 18 touchdowns to only three interceptions. He also has another 281 yards on the ground and three scores. He's a guy who can do a little bit of everything, and he has done so, even catching two passes for 13 yards. Head coach Kalani Sitake just needs to let Hall cook, and the USC defense will do the rest for him.
The Cougs also have an electric talent in the backfield in Tyler Allgeier. The sophomore running back has 1,303 yards on the season on just 228 carries. That's an average of 5.7 yards per carry, and he's also scored 18 touchdowns. While Allgeier is more of a traditional back and not too much of a problem in the passing game, he does have 21 catches on the year for 152 yards. That's an average of 7.2 yards per catch. Fortunately for BYU, they have a number of talented receivers including Puka Nacua, Gunner Romney, and Neil Pau'u, all of whom have over 500 yards and at least three touchdowns.
When USC Has the Ball
The Trojans need to figure out some sort of identity on offense. This is a team that can't run the ball, throw the ball, or move the ball on critical down and distances. If they can figure out a way to pound the rock this game, they might actually have a shot at upsetting BYU. The Cougars do have a bit of a turnover problem, with nine of them on the year. By comparison, USC has 17 takeaways. If they can couple those turnovers with short fields and a competent rushing attack, they can use quick scores as a means to take the ball out of Allgeier's hands and force Hall to beat them over the top.
What USC does well is run the ball with Keaontay Ingram, who has 911 rushing yards on the year. Running the ball takes it out of the hands of quarterbacks Kedon Slovis and Jaxson Dart, who have thrown a combined 13 interceptions to only 18 touchdowns on the year. But if they do run the ball with Ingram, they're going to have to rely on him and him alone with Kenan Christon suspended and Vavae Malepeai, the team's second-leading rusher, only having about 300 yards on the year.
Let's be honest, the Trojans are hanging on for dear life with half their coaching staff being completely disinterested in doing their job and the other half being completely in over their heads, including interim head coach Donte Williams. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando looks completely checked out. Graham Harrell never should have been hired and has no clue what he's doing. The best offensive player on the team is out for the year, and neither Slovis nor Dart seems capable of handling the starting quarterback duties.
This is a team that desperately needs to just start over under new leadership. They need to put 2021 and the Clay Helton administration behind them. The team needs a massive overhaul on the offensive line, and recruiting hasn't been up to snuff for years. Whoever is hired this offseason has quite the job in front of them, and that's why BYU ought to win this game going away. They have a better coaching staff and more disciplined players, and they completely buy into Sitake's leadership. Never mind the fact that the Cougars are 9-2 on the year and ranked No. 13 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Prediction: BYU 39, USC 19
Podcast: Week 13 Preview, Predictions, and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.