The Obvious from Provo: With further questions still waiting to be answered, the No. 24 USC Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12) travel to LaVell Edwards Stadium (photo above) in Provo, Utah, this weekend to play the suddenly revitalized BYU Cougars (1-1) in a rare Saturday afternoon game (1:30 p.m. MST/ 12:30 p.m. PDT), which will test the Men of Troy in their first treacherous road game of the season and perhaps validate or invalidate last Saturday night’s stunningly impressive, 45-20, domination of the Stanford Cardinal in the Coliseum.
The Not So Obvious: Was USC’s masterful and reenergizing win over Stanford a foreshadowing of things to come or did a true Trojan freshman quarterback named Kedon Slovis (377 yds, 28-of-33, 3 TD passes, 0 int.) simply have the game of his life, a Walter Mitty moment, or a succinctly produced, feel-good Twilight Zone episode? And, BTW, Slovis was also named Pac-12 Player of the Week for his Stanford performance.
Last Saturday night was definitely Hollywood script material, which included one of the most memorable freshman performances in recent USC football lore. Kedon Slovis – even Hollywood couldn’t have created a character name like that unless it came out of the mouth of Humphrey Bogart. Slovis inspired his entire team, which came roaring back against the Cardinal after being down early 17-3 in the second quarter and then going on to blitz Stanford in a 35-0 run. So, will the real USC team please stand up or maybe it did last week. We may find out about Troy this weekend against the forces of evil in a tiny hamlet called Provo.
The Obvious: The Trojans opened up a 3-point favorite to defeat BYU.
The Not So Obvious: Ironically, BYU opened the 2019 season at home against No. 11 Utah, who the Trojans host next Friday night in the Coli, and the Cougars were soundly defeated, 30-12. As for the Trojans and BYU on Saturday, this is only the third time the Cardinal and Gold and the Cougars have ever met, and the first time in 15 years. And it’s just Troy’s second trip to Provo. FYI, the Cougars will visit Los Angeles with Coliseum games in 2021 and 2023.
The Obvious: Saturday’s game will be televised nationally on ABC (1:30 pm MDT/ 12:30 p.m. PDT/ 4:30 p.m. EDT).
The Not So Obvious: The ABC broadcasters will be Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Greg McElroy (analyst) and Tom Luginbill (sidelines).
The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans’ radio broadcast from BYU will begin airing live from Provo on KABC 790 AM (11:30 a.m. PDT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline). John Jackson will on occasion provide selective perspective.
The Trojans’ radio game broadcast from LaVell Edwards Stadium on KABC AM 790 will be preceded by a two-hour pregame show beginning at 10:30 a.m. (PDT) and joining the game broadcast crew will be Sam Farber, former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne, and Julia Adams. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.
The Not So Obvious: The BYU broadcast can be heard on BYU flagship station KSL NewsRadio 1160 AM and 102.7 FM with Greg Wrubell (play-by-play), Riley Nelson (analyst) and Mitchel Juergens (sidelines).
Saturday’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channels 126/198 or online channel 960 and on the Tunein Radio app.
The Obvious: Saturday’s Provo weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 87 degrees, low of 55 degrees, 31 percent humidity, and 0 percent precipitation. Temperature at kickoff is expected to be sunny and 79 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans have finally found their mojo through the energy and performance of true freshman signal caller Kedon Slovis. Being the first road game for both Slovis and his teammates, we’ll find out whether this edition of the Trojans can continue to improve and at the same time overcome the pitfalls of their first road encounter. And speaking of weather, we’ll see whether the Provo elevation of 4,553 feet and heat has an effect on the Men of Troy. The Trojans will face a BYU team that returns 18 starters from last season, nine of whom play on offense.
Offensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans can maintain the semblance of a balanced offense. BYU’s defense showed great vulnerability to the run against Tennessee, giving up 242 yards on 49 carries. It’s questionable that the Trojans ball carrying trio of Vavae Malepeai, Stephen Carr, and perhaps further involvement from thunderous Markese Stepp will come close to those ball carrying numbers. Last week, Stanford did not attack Trojans’ quarterback Kedon Slovis with much blitzing or line harassment. The Cardinal paid a price for that strategy, as Slovis turned the evening into his own 7-on-7 passing drill. Ironically, BYU did didn’t put much pressure on the Volunteers’ quarterback either last week, achieving just one sack and one QB hurry. If Slovis gets time, it could be a long afternoon for the BYU folks. With arguably one of the nation’s premier receiving corps, BYU fans inside LaVell Edwards Stadium may become nauseous hearing the names Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Drake London, Velus Jones, and the list goes on. As it always does, the offense will revolve around the Trojans’ seemingly improving offensive line and whether they can dominant or at least hold their own on the LOS. In tackles Austin Jackson and Drew Richmond, guards Alijah Vera-Tucker and Jalen McKenzie, and center Brett Neilon, the line’s continued progress will be key to the balance of the season. BYU’s physical defense will counter with linebackers Kavika Fonua and Zayne Anderson and strong safety Austin Lee. The Cougars are ranked 20th nationally in passing yards allowed.
Defensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans can start the game off by being dominant, thus giving their offense some breathing room. We’ll see if the Trojans can get to outstanding BYU sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson, who last Saturday against Tennessee completed 19 of 29 passes for a touchdown and 232 yards, including a 64-yard completion to Micah Simon to set up the game-tying field goal in regulation in Knoxville. In many aspects, the BYU offense will mirror the Trojans offense with an Air Raid touch. We find out whether the Trojans secondary, led by corner Olaijah Griffin and inside safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao can contain or limit damage from BYU receiver Micah Simon and tight end Matt Bushman, a 2017 Freshman All-American. First, the Trojans, however, will have to stuff the BYU run, and we’ll see whether the Trojans front can continue to improve in rushing yardage allowed. The Cougars ground attack is led by South Carolina transfer Ty’son Williams, who will rely on a physical offensive line paced by center James Empey, a 2018 Freshman All-American.
On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll see whether punting and field position play a major part in the final outcome. In Trojans’ punter Ben Griffiths (39.0 avg.), he is a wild card because he appears to have been asked to forsake distance for field position and return yardage, thus giving the impression he is having a disappointing season. It’s probable that Ben is simply taking direct orders from special teams guru John Baxter. BYU will counter with punter Jake Oldroyd, who had a huge game against Tennessee, averaging 50.3 yards per punt with a long of 55 yards. However, there could be a battle of placekickers, and both teams have solid performers. BYU has a good one in sophomore Jake Oldroyd, who had four field goals with a long of 42 yards to help upset Tennessee 29-26 in double overtime. We find out whether Trojans’ sophomore kicker Chase McGrath can continue to be a positive factor, especially on the road. Chase has rebounded from last season’s devastating knee injury that cut short his season of high expectations.
The Obvious: Clancy Pendergast is the Trojans’ defensive coordinator, who will be looking to devise a game plan to slow down the BYU offense.
The Not So Obvious: In evaluating BYU’s offense and quarterback Zack Wilson specifically, Pendergast says, “First and foremost, they do a lot of different things offensively. They’ve changed a little bit with a new quarterback (Zack Wilson) that started a game at the end of last year, so there an unknown what they’re doing offensively with him. It’s only been two games with him becoming a fulltime starter this year. He threw for a lot of yards in high school. If you look at his statistics, he makes a lot of plays with his feet and stays active. He looks to throw the ball down the field when he breaks out of the pocket and also will pull down and run the ball. He’s definitely a dual-threat quarterback.”
The Obvious: Kelani Sitake, 43, is in his fourth season as BYU head coach.
The Not So Obvious: Sitkae is the first Tongan to become a collegiate football head coach. He played fullback for BYU (1994, 1997-2000) and helped BYU to its first Mountain West Conference championship in 1999 and was named team captain in 2000.
Regarding the Trojans, Sitake says, “There is a reason why they are ranked and why there is a lot of excitement going on with them. So, we get them here at home and we are just looking forward to matching up with them.”
Regarding Kedon Slovis, Sitake says, “Kedon Slovis, he’s an impressive kid with good composure. I watched him last night on film. He’s poised and made some really tough throws. Obviously, he’s very effective. I think he went 28 for 33 and 377 yards. He has some really good weapons around him, but I think he showed some really good maturity and poise in the pocket and was able to throw the ball with good timing.”
The Obvious: The Trojans’ offense averages 38.0 points per game while the Trojans defense allows 21.5 points per game.
The Not So Obvious: BYU’s offense averages 20.5 points per game while the Cardinal defense allows 28.0 points per outing.
The Obvious: Saturday’s game will be the Trojans first game of the season away from the Coliseum.
The Not So Obvious: In road openers, the Trojans are 82-30-8 (.717), which does not include one road win vacated due to NCAA penalty (original record: 83-30-8, .719 on the road).
The Obvious: The Trojans have one player from the state of Utah, defensive tackle Jay Tufele (Bingham HS).
The Not So Obvious: Utah has 27 Californians on its roster.
The Obvious: The starting quarterback for BYU is sophomore Zack Wilson (6-3, 203), who is very much a threat to the Trojans’ defense.
The Not So Obvious: A business major at BYU, Wilson was not heavily recruited by the Pac-12, his only overtures coming from Cal and Oregon State.
The Obvious: The Trojans have two married players (OG-OT Andrew Vorhees and PK Michael Brown) on their team.
The Not So Obvious: BYU has 25 players who are married.
The Obvious: One big difference between the Trojans and BYU is the age differential.
The Not So Obvious: The average age of the players on BYU’s 2019 roster is 21.4 years old. Of the 107 players on the Trojans’ current roster, just 34 are even 21 years old (31.8%).
The Obvious: It is always a good thing to recognize all the teachers that tirelessly work to get students a good education.
The Not So Obvious: Saturday (Sept. 14) is the start of “Extra Yard For Teachers Week,” a week-long celebration of teachers by the nation’s collegiate football programs and the College Football Playoff Foundation.
The Obvious: USC has an undergraduate enrollment of 19,170.
The Not So Obvious: BYU has an undergraduate enrollment of 30,843.
The Obvious: And finally, will the Trojans be looking ahead to next Friday night’s Pac-12 South Division biggie in the Coliseum?
The Not So Obvious: They’d better not be because as one veteran scribe said to the O/NSO recently, “It’s a big-time atmosphere playing at BYU.” And if the Trojans are planning on returning to the big-time, they’ll need to prove it in Provo.