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USC faces big task vs. BYU in final home game of season

LA Times logo LA Times 11/26/2021 Megan Garcia
USC quarterback Jaxson Dart talks with teammates during a game against Arizona at the Coliseum. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times) © (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times) USC quarterback Jaxson Dart talks with teammates during a game against Arizona at the Coliseum. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The roller coaster that has embodied USC’s tumultuous football season is approaching one of its final stops of 2021. The hardships that have weighed down the Trojans in the Pac-12 Conference aren’t in the rearview mirror yet and a nonconference battle with Brigham Young might complicate USC’s aspirations to qualify for bowl play.

The penultimate matchup of the Trojans’ season will come against No. 13 BYU (9-2) on Saturday at the Coliseum in a 7:30 p.m. game broadcast by ESPN. It will be the final home game for USC as the program gets another glimpse of its future with freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart trying to match BYU’s Jaren Hall.

Defensive blueprints

BYU's Tyler Allgeier bursts into the clear on a touchdown run against Idaho State. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press) © (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press) BYU's Tyler Allgeier bursts into the clear on a touchdown run against Idaho State. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Just a week after suffering a lopsided loss to UCLA, the Trojans’ defense will need to hit the restart button to counteract BYU’s nationally top-ranked offense.

USC’s season-long defensive struggles have the Trojans' backs against the wall. Opposing teams are averaging 172.8 rushing yards per game against USC, while BYU has rushed an average of 187.1 yards.

The Trojans want to build consistency to keep the Cougars at bay, even more so running back Tyler Allgeier, who has rushed more than 1,300 yards in 11 games this season.

“For the most part when you get into this part of the season, most of the people are who they are, so you get a decent feel of what they're doing,” USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “Just try as much as possible to just try to get the guys the information, try to give them the answers to the test before they get out there. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't happen.”

Bowl destiny

USC coach Donte Williams huddles with his players at the Coliseum earlier this season. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times) © (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times) USC coach Donte Williams huddles with his players at the Coliseum earlier this season. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In order for USC to be bowl-eligible, the Trojans will need to reach the six-win mark with only two games left in the season. The dilemma is USC’s overall record currently sits at 4-6 with the Trojans scheduled to play California to finish out the season.

Dart was still in high school when USC was thwarted by Iowa in the Holiday Bowl in 2019. Now as a true freshman, Dart will make his second career start on Saturday with the Trojans’ hopes on the line to make their first bowl appearance in two years.

In the loss to UCLA, Dart impressed with 325 passing yards and a 57.4 completion percentage on 47 attempts.

With USC only winning one of its last five games, the rough stretch has offered a clearer picture for what’s needed out of the team.

“We had a little bit of highs and lows, but for the most part, guys still practice hard, still flying around,” interim head coach Donte Williams said. “You see a lot of 'want to,' but we got to have 'want to' from everyone, and that's including myself, that's excluding all the coaches, that's trainers, everyone. It has to be a full buy-in to make sure we're fully prepared to take on BYU.”

Familiarity with the unknown

The Trojans have faced Brigham Young only three other times in the school’s history, once being at the Coliseum in 2003 — a 35-18 win for USC. Despite the unfamiliarity the two teams have with each other, Williams isn’t fazed by BYU’s style of play, especially after attempting to trudge past UCLA last week.

“It wasn't a lot of film [to look at], but at the same time UCLA does some things that BYU does,” Williams said. “So those are the plays, especially the mistakes, that we corrected.”

Brigham Young has been bowl-eligible since October and will be a tough obstacle for the Trojans. The Cougars head into the Coliseum after beating Georgia Southern, 34-17, which is coincidentally former USC head coach Clay Helton’s new team.

BYU marks the 13th instance the Trojans have not faced UCLA or Notre Dame during Thanksgiving week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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