No. 13 BYU can secure consecutive double-digit-win seasons and complete a regular-season sweep of Pac-12 Conference competition on Saturday when it visits Southern California in Los Angeles.
Since dropping consecutive decisions midway through the season, the Cougars (9-2) have rolled off four straight wins. Another on Saturday would give them 10-plus for a second straight year, a feat not achieved at BYU since the program reached the 10-win milestone four consecutive times from 2006-09.
“I know that everyone wants to talk about possibilities and future opponents,” Cougars coach Kalani Sitake said in his Monday press conference. “We are just focused on this game and this opportunity.”
USC (4-6) is BYU’s fifth Pac-12 opponent in 2021. The Cougars opened the campaign with a 24-16 defeat of Arizona, knocked off rival Utah and Arizona State in the following two weeks, then outlasted Washington State on Oct. 23.
None of the four scored more than 19 points on a BYU defense holding opponents to an average of 23.6 points per game. In their current winning streak, the Cougars have held three of their last four opponents to fewer than 20 points, including their most recent outing.
BYU pitched a second-half shutdown in last week’s 34-17 win at Georgia Southern — a program that, earlier this month, announced the hire of Clay Helton to fill its head-coaching vacancy for the 2022 season.
Helton was fired at USC in September following a blowout loss to Stanford. His tenure included a Rose Bowl win to cap the 2016 season and a conference championship in 2017, but also featured several disappointments, including the program’s first losing record since 2000 in 2018.
Under Helton’s interim replacement, Donte Williams, USC is in danger of finishing below .500 again. The Trojans need to win their final two regular-season games to earn bowl eligibility and avoid a losing campaign.
USC dropped its last two, including a 62-33 rout last week against rival UCLA. The Trojans surrendered four rushing touchdowns for a second consecutive game, and allowed a combined 542 rushing yards in losses to the Bruins and Arizona State.
BYU comes in boasting one of the nation’s most prolific ball-carriers in running back Tyler Allgeier. The native of nearby Fontana, Calif., returns to southern California averaging 118.5 rushing yards per game with 18 touchdowns.
Saturday’s matchup could come down to which offense more effectively establishes its run game, as Williams touted USC’s ground attack as an underrated strength.
“We came into this year, nobody expected us to be a good running team,” Williams said during his Sunday night media availability. “When we actually call running plays, we actually do a darn good job running the football.”
The Trojans operate a spread air-raid offense, a pass-happy descendant of the scheme Hall of Fame BYU coach LaVell Edwards popularized in the 1980s and 1990s. USC has mixed in almost 140 rushing yards per game in its version of the system, and Trojans ball-carriers are averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
USC recorded a net total of 159 rushing yards last week vs. UCLA, a figure somewhat skewed by the three sacks quarterback Jaxson Dart took in his first career start. Running back Keaontay Ingram gained 96 yards on 17 carries, and backfield mate Vavae Malepeai rushed for three touchdowns.
As for Dart, the Utah native will make the start again this week in place of injured Kedon Slovis. Dart threw for 325 yards and a touchdown against UCLA, but was intercepted twice. He faces a BYU secondary with two players, Malik Moore and Jakob Robinson, who each have three picks this season.
–Field Level Media