USC Football struggled last season, but so far in 2019 has shown to be a totally different team.
One month ago if BYU fans were asked which game out of the first four was the most winnable, the consensus answer would have been USC. After all, Utah and Washington are both coming off of playing in the Pac 12 Championship game and Tennessee, although not seen as elite, was still seen as a 7-5 SEC team on the road.
USC was coming off of a 5-7 season with a completely different coaching staff and now an injured quarterback. The win started to seem not just possible but likely. Then USC destroyed Stanford 45-20 behind a freshman quarterback who looks more like Trevor Lawrence than a backup freshman.
Now, USC honestly may be the best team that BYU plays all season, yes perhaps even better than Utah. But there are still so many questions about this team that won't be answered a few more weeks.
General Team Notes
Head Coach: Clay Helton (34-17)
Notable Wins: Fresno State (31-23), #25 Stanford (45-20)
Notable Losses: None
All Time Record vs BYU: 2-0
Although the two schools are both historic and relatively close in proximity, this match up will only be the third time these teams have ever played each other. The first two times USC was ranked as a Top 3 team and the Cougars were in the struggling Gary Crowton era.
Previewing the Offense
This team is looking like the kind of team that could hang with the likes of Oklahoma, high scoring with average defense. Last week against Stanford, the Trojans in the second half were able to do anything that they wanted to and the scoreboard showed that with them scoring 35 points in the last 35 minutes of the game. The starting quarterback Kedon Slovis is leading the nation in completion percentage at 83% for 434 yards and three touchdowns.
The receiving core may also be the most talented group in the nation with a balanced attack of four receivers who can all make a big play. To this point in the season there isn't a "go to" receiver, but that may be more of a problem than an opportunity since all the receivers are dangerous.
The running attack of USC is the most questionable position. While they racked up a lot of yards in both games, much of those yards came in garbage time when the Trojans were trying to run out the clock.
What BYU has to do
First off, if this ends up being a shootout, good luck. I don't think that the odds will be in BYU's favor if it is the kind of game that ends up in the 40's. The Cougars need to keep the ball away from USC and that means running the ball and sustaining drives. In the first half of the Tennessee game, there were only four possessions by each team. While that can't be expected against a pass first team, if the Cougars can keep USC under 12 possessions that could be key. Assuming that the Trojans score on 50% of those with a mix of touchdowns and field goals, that would put them around 28-35 points.
Also, the Cougars need to create a play on defense. To this point, Slovis has never played on the road and he hasn't had a lot of adversity in his career. A key interception, a hard sack or a few tough third down stands could get into his head and perhaps slow him down a bit. I highly doubt the will remain at 83% completion rate, but anything above 75% is too dangerous for BYU.
Finally, the Cougars need to make the Trojans one dimensional. They aren't going to take away the pass game. USC is too talented at the QB and WR positions. So they need to stuff the run. Doing this would also add pressure on Slovis to make the play down the field on 2nd and 3rd down.
BYU has really struggled to slow teams down on their side of the 50 yard line. I don't think that will stop this week. USC is going to find the open receivers and march across the 50 before running into a tougher BYU defense. The game is going to come down to whether the Cougars can force long field goal attempts. Kicker Chase McGrath is really good connecting on 5-9 from 40 yards or longer, but three points is better than seven and maybe there will be a miss or two somewhere in there.
I do also believe that the Cougars will force two turnovers whether that is takeaways for fourth down stops. The timing and location of those will play key on whether it affects the young freshman quarterback.
Either way, the BYU is going to have to score a lot of points if they hope to win, and the defense is going to have to make USC work for theirs and force long drives that eat up the clock.