Trojans look to maintain hot start against Cougars in Provo
BYU gets another crack at upsetting a ranked Pac-12 opponent when it hosts no. 24 USC on Saturday. This is the second of three games against Pac-12 opponents that the Cougars will host at LaVell Edwards Stadium in September.
The Trojans (2-0) pose a unique challenge to the Cougars. USC is in prime position to start 3-0 for just the second time in eight seasons after earning a resounding 45-20 victory over Stanford a week ago. The Trojans scored their most points against the Cardinal since 2011, racking up 492 total yards and 23 first downs on 61 plays.
The Cougars (1-1) also enter the game with a little momentum. BYU rallied for a 29-26 double-overtime victory against Tennessee last Saturday. A 64-yard pass from quarterback Zach Wilson to Micah Simon set up a tying field goal with one second left in regulation. The Cougars rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to secure just their fourth road victory over a current SEC team.
USC won both previous meetings between the two schools. They last met in Provo in 2004 when the Trojans pulled away for a 42-10 victory. Reggie Bush led the way with 124 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Matt Leinart added 236 yards and a pair of TDs on 22-of-34 passing.
USC at BYU
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: USC -4.0
When USC Has the Ball
Clay Helton has found his trigger man for the Air Raid. Freshman QB Kedon Slovis shined in his first start against Stanford, throwing for 377 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-33 passing. Slovis leads the nation in completion percentage (82.9 percent). If he can mirror that performance in his second start against BYU, it could be a long day for the Cougars.
USC will use its depth and speed at receiver to try to stretch the field against BYU. The Cougars could find ways to slow down the attack. BYU ranks 20th nationally in pass defense, giving up 141.0 yards per game. It helps the Trojans to have their top four receivers from a year ago back to give Slovis plenty of targets. This quartet combined for 183 receptions, 2,448 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018.
Tyler Vaughns has done the most damage early among the receivers. The sure-handed junior has totaled 256 yards on 16 catches through his first two games this season. Vaughns leads the Pac-12 in receptions and ranks ninth nationally in receiving yards.
BYU struggled to stop the run against Utah and Tennessee. The Cougars are allowing 252.0 rushing yards per game, and USC is positioned to take advantage. Vavae Malepeai is averaging 5.0 yards per carry through his first two games, while Stephen Carr is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. The duo has combined for five rushing touchdowns in USC's first two games.
When BYU Has the Ball
The Cougars finally showed some signs of life on offense in the final minute of regulation and in overtime against Tennessee. Wilson shook off earlier struggles to complete passes at critical junctures, and BYU imposed its will with some big runs down the stretch.
Ty'Son Williams is starting to make his mark as BYU's featured back and will be the focal point of USC's defense. Williams, a graduate transfer from South Carolina, ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries against the Volunteers. His second score — a five-yard score aided by a push from the offensive line — sealed the Cougars' comeback victory. BYU will need another big game from Williams to help keep the Trojans' potent offense on the sidelines.
Wilson's favored target is tight end Matt Bushman. The junior has 102 yards on eight catches. BYU will likely need big games from Aleva Hifo and Simon to deflect some defensive attention away from Bushman. Simon totaled a career-best 127 yards on seven receptions against Tennessee. He has 162 yards on 10 catches through two games. Hifo has 55 yards on six catches to go along with 21 yards on three carries in BYU's first two contests.
BYU is just 1-5 against Power 5 opponents in Provo during Kalani Sitake's tenure. Four of those losses have come against Pac-12 teams. The games have generally been low-scoring and close, but the Cougars haven't been able to make winning plays. This could be a problem once again. USC's version of the Air Raid offense helped the Trojans roll right over a normally tough Stanford defense. The Cougars do have a quality pass defense, but they will likely struggle to contain the Trojans' speedy receivers for four quarters.
Prediction: USC 31, BYU 20
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.