After two resounding wins against Fresno State and Stanford, the No. 24 Trojans will travel to Provo, Utah, to take on the Brigham Young Cougars in their first road game of the season. USC’s last and only two matchups against BYU were wins during their 2003 and 2004 national championship campaigns.
Both teams are coming off of energizing wins against two respectable college football programs. USC, led by true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, hosted a nationally ranked Stanford Cardinal team that had holes at the quarterback and left tackle positions due to injury. In what was arguably the most impressive starting debut by a true freshman quarterback in school history, Slovis stole the show.
He threw for three touchdowns and six incompletions. Slovis’ 377 passing yards were the most ever by a freshman USC starting quarterback. Slovis’ performance helped USC’s offense erase a 14 point deficit en route to a 45-20 victory over their conference rival.
"I don't think [the win] shows how good I am," Slovis said after the game. "But it shows how good the team is around me."
Meanwhile, BYU was also able to avoid a loss on the road against the Tennessee Volunteers. Finding themselves down 13-3 at halftime, sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson rallied the Cougars to set up a game-tying field goal with one second remaining in regulation. Senior running back Ty’Son Williams’ five yard run in double overtime secured BYU’s win over Tennessee, a program that has now gone 0-2 for the first time since 1988.
“[USC] is a great team and I’m excited for them to come and play,” BYU senior wide receiver Micah Simon said on Monday. “This is a big opportunity for us. They have a strong defense and played a good game against Stanford this past weekend.”
With both teams catching momentum boosts from last week, there is a lot to look for during the showdown in Provo.
Both Slovis and Wilson had impressive showings but will still need continued help from their offensive linemen. Notre Dame junior transfer Tristan Hoge headlines BYU’s offensive line, while junior tackle Austin Jackson and redshirt sophomore guard Alijah Vera-Tucker will be strengths on Slovis’ left side. Specifically for the Trojans, junior running backs Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai will look to take advantage of openings their offensive linemen give them and – BYU’s overall poor run defense – with every carry.
“The thing that we have to be is a mature football team and we have to show our maturity,” head coach Clay Helton told the Trojans Live podcast on Monday. “We’ve taken each game and not talked about the opponent; we’ve just focused on us and getting better, and that’s not going to change.”
There are sure to be big plays made by both teams’ wide receivers Saturday afternoon. Sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown and seniors Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns will headline the Trojans’ receiving corps as the trio has combined for over 500 yards and almost 70% of all receptions thus far. Slovis’ first touchdown, a perfectly placed 39-yard pass to St. Brown in the end zone, set the tone for the rest of last week’s game, while Wilson’s stunning 64-yard pass to Simon, who leads BYU receivers in both receptions and yards, helped position the Cougars to hit the game-tying field goal against Tennessee. Even with USC’s hot start and BYU’s week two comeback, Saturday’s matchup will be sure to feature deep-balls and fast runs after the catch.
USC and BYU will heavily emphasize defense coming into the game, as both programs posted hefty numbers on the scoreboard last week. Redshirt senior Christian Rector and freshman Drake Jackson will look to build on their already impressive pass rushing abilities for the Trojans against Hoge and the rest of BYU’s offensive line, while sophomore Alden Tofa will lead the Cougar’s defensive and look to put pressure on Slovis. BYU has allowed an average of 7.5 more points per game than points scored, so expect head coach Kalani Sitake to place a heavy emphasis on defense during the game.
“I’m really looking forward to [the game] in our next opportunity to compete, and we’re looking forward to our first road trip,” Helton said. “Hopefully we can go and put a good win behind us and show our maturity.”
The Trojans will visit the Cougars on ABC this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
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