PROVO, Utah — Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis dropped back in the pocket — a third-and-six play on USC’s first overtime drive following BYU’s opening three-point drive. The pass came out into double coverage, was batted into the air and nabbed by a Cougar. BYU fans jumped the bleachers and stormed the field to celebrate with their team that just upset No. 24 USC 30-27 in overtime.
“This team is built for this, to have adversity in the middle of the cut,” head coach Clay Helton said about his team’s performance.
The Trojans were riding high coming into their matchup with BYU; they had just upset then-No. 23-ranked Stanford in convincing fashion. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s air-raid offense worked magnificently and Slovis was touted to be the solution to all of USC’s offensive problems.
Against BYU, not so much. From the opening kickoff, the Cougars were playing cover three, drop eight. With eight defenders scanning the field and ball-hawking Slovis, the young quarterback had few receiving options.
On USC’s opening drive, the offense actually looked methodical, like it had against the Cardinal a week ago. Slovis and USC’s receiving core moved the ball down the field with ease, but it didn’t last long.
The low light of Slovis’ performance were the three interceptions he threw, one of which sealed the Trojans’ loss. Despite the three picks, Slovis racked up 281 passing yards, notching two touchdowns. After the game, Slovis said he didn’t let the interceptions change his mindset.
“You’ve just got to stay confident. One thing that you can’t let happen is that you lose your confidence,” Slovis said. “You do that and you’re screwed.”
USC held a four-point lead over BYU with just under six minutes to play. The Trojans allowed a 35-yard passing play to let BYU enter the red zone and ultimately score a touchdown to put the Cougars ahead by three with five minutes left.
USC had to rely on sophomore kicker Chase McGrath to bail USC out with a 52-yard game-tying field goal with just over a minute remaining.
USC and BYU had opportunities to end the game in regulation, but neither team was successful. Enter overtime, USC’s first overtime since two years ago, when the Trojans topped Texas in double overtime.
The Trojan defense held the Cougars to a field goal on the opening overtime drive. All the offense had to do was put the ball in the end zone to win the game. If they didn’t find the end zone, the Trojans were well within McGrath’s range to send the game to a second overtime with a field goal.
The Trojans were stymied on first down as a tackle for loss set the Trojans back a few yards. A second down run brought USC within six yards of a first down. A third down pass into double coverage ended the game, securing BYU’s upset.
“I just thought I saw grass and it got batted and it got picked,” Slovis said about the interception. “A lot of mistakes, a lot of places to get better, but you know we had some spurts there too we can definitely improve on.”
There are several areas USC needs to improve on if it wants to have a shot against any of the tough competition that lies ahead. For one, the defensive line had trouble securing tackles in the backfield. There were several plays in which the Trojans allowed BYU quarterback Zach Wilson to scramble for too long and squeeze out big gains on plays that should have been a loss of yards.
After the Stanford game, Helton said there would be an emphasis on backfield tackling in practice the following week. Freshman defensive lineman Drake Jackson commented on the most frustrating part of the game:
“Not being able to capitalize,” Jackson said. “We just have to capitalize next time. We just gotta improve some aspects.”
Moreover, the Trojans allowed 44 penalty yards on five penalties. Though this is below their average for a game, the flags flew at key times knocking USC back five, 10, 15-yards when they needed it most. On two instances, USC returned the ball to the 40-yard line, but they were both called back to within the 20-yard line for an unsportsmanlike conduct and personal foul penalty.
“This is a non-conference game early in the season that we’ll have to dig our way out of,” Helton said. “We’ve got a big game next week. ... We don’t have time to sulk.”
The Trojans drop to 2-1 on the season and will return home next week for a Friday night matchup against No. 11 Utah.
For post-game scrum interviews click here.