After what was probably the program’s biggest win since 2017, USC shocked both its own fanbase and the college football world by soundly stomping then-No. 23-ranked Stanford after an unconvincing win against Fresno State. After freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis’ breakout in his first game as USC’s starter, expectations for this team are higher than they’ve been in a long time as it heads to Utah for a matchup with BYU.
The 1-1 Cougars also come into the game riding high after a thrilling comeback victory on the road against Tennessee.
Though on paper USC should be the better team all around, the difficult atmosphere in Provo and a motivated BYU squad could turn this into a trap game.
USC Offense vs BYU Defense
A week into “Kedon Season,” the USC offense looks completely different from last year. Slovis’ skillset makes him the perfect show-runner for offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s offense; he does a good job cycling through reads quickly and can place the ball accurately to any spot on the field. He can make incredibly difficult throws, as evident in his performance last week.
That confidence in his ability does occasionally lead him to make risky throws, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to get away with them as often as he did against Stanford. With that said, the Trojan receiving corps is one of the deepest and most talented in the country, which gives Slovis more leeway to take chances.
Wide receivers senior Michael Pittman Jr., sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown and redshirt junior Tyler Vaughns have all been highly productive for the Trojans thus far, and as Slovis grows more comfortable in his role, the chemistry between him and his pass catchers will come even more naturally.
However, perhaps the biggest contributor to the success of the Trojan offense has been the offensive line. The big men up front have been stellar the past two weeks, consistently giving Slovis clean pockets and plenty of time to work with.
BYU is ranked No. 20 in pass yards allowed — impressive on paper, but diminished after a closer look at the film. Neither of its opponents thus far have featured a strong passing offense. The Cougars have faced only 44 pass attempts thus far, making their 282 pass yards allowed significantly less impressive.
Additionally, the Cougars have only managed one sack in two games. Against a Trojan offensive line that’s played so well, that number seems unlikely to change much. Even if USC doesn’t put up the gaudy passing numbers it did last week, expect it to be efficient and successful through the air.
On the ground, the Trojans’ prospects seem even better against a BYU defense that’s allowed 5.2 yards per carry, good for No. 128 in the nation. USC is strong at running back, with junior tailback Stephen Carr and redshirt junior tailback Vavae Malepeai both playing at a high level (7.4 and 5 yards per carry, respectively on a similar number of carries) behind a capable run-blocking offensive line. The Trojans should put up a lot of points Saturday, as the talent gap between them and the BYU defense is just too wide.
BYU Offense vs USC Defense
BYU’s offense is led by sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson, who has thrown for 440 yards and completed nearly 65% of his passes through two games. Wilson is a legitimately talented quarterback with very good arm talent, strong mobility and solid decision making. Although he hasn’t been the gunslinging superstar many expected him to become in his second year, he’s capable of playing excellent football going forward.
Although BYU doesn’t feature any star pass-catchers, its receiving corps is a decent group. The group’s performance in the closing stages of last week’s comeback against Tennessee was a big part of the victory. Against a Trojan defense that is still shaky in its pass rush and youthful in the secondary, the BYU passing attack could have its best game of the young season.
On the ground, senior running back Ty’Son Williams has been impressive for the Cougars, carrying the ball at a clip of 5.7 yards per carry with 3 touchdowns. USC’s defense has struggled to tackle in both of its games so he could be in for a big day as well.
The BYU offense doesn’t feature as much top end talent as the Trojans have on defense, but with a good day from Wilson and Williams, it could put up an impressive number of points Saturday against a Trojan defense that hasn’t found its identity.
PREDICTION: 42-31, USC
In a game with two talented young quarterbacks and two questionable defenses, expect the showdown in Provo to be a shootout. Both teams will score often on the ground and through the air. However, the gap between USC’s offense and BYU’s defense is significantly wider than it is on the other side of the ball.
The Trojans have playmakers like sophomore cornerback Olaijah Griffin and freshman defensive lineman Drake Jackson on their defense, and despite the unit’s shortcomings, they’re capable of creating turnovers and stopping enough drives to keep the Cougars in check. Though a sloppy performance from the Trojans could easily turn this into a trap game, they should be strong enough on both sides of the ball to beat the Cougars.