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USC stages big rally in second half, but falls to BYU and out of bowl contention

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DUPLICATE***Brigham Young wide receiver Puka Nacua (12) recovers a fumble.
BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua recovers a fumble during the first half of the Trojans’ 35-31 loss Saturday at the Coliseum.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

USC came back from 15 points down against No. 13 BYU at the Coliseum, but were unable to pull off the upset and keep their bowl hopes alive.

USC rally comes up short in loss to No. 13 BYU that ends Trojans’ bowl hopes

Gary Bryant Jr. broke off his route one yard short of the sticks on fourth and six, and USC’s bowl hopes were shattered.

The receiver was tackled after a five-yard gain when USC needed six to keep its bowl hopes alive, dooming the Trojans to a 35-31 loss to No. 13 Brigham Young on Saturday night at the Coliseum. Now guaranteed a losing record, the Trojans (4-7, 3-6 Pac-12) will miss a bowl game for the second time in three years. That hasn’t happened since Paul Hackett’s forgettable tenure from 1999 to 2001.

USC notched its fifth loss of the year at home, the most for a season since 2000.

Although USC was at the Coliseum, it felt more like a night in Provo, Utah than Los Angeles. At least half of the fans in the Coliseum wore BYU blue and white. Visiting fans drowned out the Trojans faithful as BYU took the field before the game and sent the teams to the locker rooms at halftime amid a loud “B-Y-U!” chant as the Cougars led 21-13.

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BYU rediscovers ground game, retakes lead; USC can’t answer

The Cougars rediscovered their running game, dormant since the first half, and re-took the lead with 3:57 remaining on a drive of 62 yards, all of which came on the ground. The last three carries, for 17 yards and including the seven-yard score, came from Jackson McChesney, who entered the game with 11 carries all season.

The Trojans started their subsequent drive on their 30 and leaned once more into their Ground Raid, calling for a run on seven of their next eight plays to drive inside the BYU 20. An incomplete pass to Gary Bryant Jr. in the left corner of the end zone was followed by two more runs to set up a fourth-and-ballgame. After a timeout, Dart hit Bryant Jr. across the middle, but the Trojans receiver was stopped one yard short of the first down to return possession to the Cougars.

Ballgame.

BYU 35, USC 31, Final

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Trojans take their first lead since early in the first quarter

The Trojans have found some defensive life in the third quarter, shutting down the Cougars’ running game and bringing a fierce pass rush against Jaren Hall. The offense has been similarly re-energized, scoring on a fourth straight drive and drawing on an unexpected source: the ground game.

USC, leaning mostly on Darwin Barlow (77 yards) and Vavae Malepeai (66 yards), have outgained the Cougars on the ground, 155-113. The Trojans mixed in seven runs with five passes in a 12-play, 91-yard drive that Gary Bryant Jr. capped with a 10-yard touchdown catch. Bryant Jr. had three catches on the drive.

BYU was moving downfield efficiently on the subsequent drive, but Calen Bullock picked off a Jaren Hall pass in the end zone to return possession to the Trojans.

USC 31, BYU 28, 8:14 left in fourth quarter

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Questionable call enables BYU to extend lead; USC answers

USC appeared to have stopped a second straight BYU drive with an interception—this one by Chris Steele on the second play of the half—but Drake Jackson was called (dubiously) for roughing the passer. Five plays later, Jaren Hall hit Keanu Hill with a 41-yard strike to push the lead back into double digits.

Jaxon Dart, however, picked up where he left off at the end of the first half, leading the Trojans on a 14-play, 75-yard drive with a massive boost from Darwin Barlow, who rushed for 39 yards and hauled in a 19-yard pass from Dart. On fourth-and-goal from the 2, Vavae Malepeai punched it in to make it a one-possession game again.

After USC’s defense held firm on the ensuing drive, a 35-yard run by Malepeai set up Parker Lewis’s third field goal of the game, a 33-yarder.

BYU 28, USC 23, 3:45 left in third quarter

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Trojans mark the long, storied career of Tim Tessalone

The USC press box long ago became synonymous with Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone, who is retiring after more than four decades in the position. To national college football writers, USC was unusually generous in making its football players available later in the week, closer to the game days for which writers traveled in, often from a long distance.

To ensure player access at other schools, some writers would fly in at the start of the week, fly back home, then fly back out to campus late in the week for the game. The joke went something along the lines of this: “Michigan shut down the players on Monday, Florida on Tuesday. USC? Tim got you into the huddle on Saturday.”

Happy trails.

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Big man’s big play leads to another Cougars score

Masen Wake is a tight end who doesn’t touch the ball all too often (10 receptions, 57 yards for the season). But on the one occasion he did touch it on the Cougars’ late second-quarter drive, he made it hurt, pulling in a 36-yard reception to set up Tyler Allgeier’s second touchdown run in as many drives to restore the Cougars’ lead to double digits.

The impact of the absences of Drake London and Keaontay Ingram was felt in an uneven half offensively. Dart completed 12 of 19 passes for 124 yards, but after a Kana’i Mauga interception at the Trojans 30 late in the half, the USC quarterback led a crisp seven-play, 54-yard drive to set up a 33-yard Parker Lewis field goal as time expired.

The Trojans go into halftime trailing at home for the fifth time in seven games.

BYU 21, USC 13, Halftime

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Jaxon Dart fumbles, picks up fumble, scores to cut deficit to 14-10

After an offsides penalty on fourth down opened the door to a BYU touchdown to make it 14-3, Jaxon Dart answered by leading the Trojans on a nine-play, 72-yard drive that the freshman quarterback capped with a six-yard touchdown run.

On a third-and-one from the BYU six, Dart fumbled the snap, went to a knee in an attempt to recover the fumble, lifted his knee before picking up the ball and running it in for the touchdown. An officials’ review upheld the call.

BYU 14, USC 10, 8:06 left in second quarter

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Costly fourth-down penalty leads to second BYU touchdown

After a punt and penalty pinned BYU inside its 10, the Trojans were unable to capitalize defensively. Three key third-down plays by Tyler Allgeier—a 22-yard run deep in his own territory, an 11-yard screen pass and a 12-yard rush—kept the drive alive.

The Trojans stopped the Cougars on third down at their 14, but were called for offsides on the subsequent field goal attempt. Now facing a fourth-and-one, BYU elected to go for it and Allgeier (eight carries, 60 yards) punched it in from the nine on the next play.

The Trojans’ defense hasn’t allowed any big plays, but it continues to struggle against the run, allowing more than six yards per carry.

BYU 14, USC 3, 11:34 left in second quarter

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USC lead is short-lived as Jaren Hall goes to work on Trojans secondary

Before he was the Quarterback Whisperer under Pete Carroll, Norm Chow helped architect the wildly entertaining, wildly successful BYU passing attacks that produced Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Ty Detmer and Steve Sarkisian.

There’s your history lesson for the evening.

Those Cougars blitzed you by air. These Cougars bury you by ground, and few teams have invited opponents to bury them by ground quite like the 2021 Trojans, as Times contributor Megan Garcia pointed out in her preview of tonight’s game.

On their first drive, however, the Cougars went retro, punctuating an eight-play 75-yard drive with three Jaren Hall passes, the last a 28-yard strike to Puka Nacua to give BYU the lead.

BYU 7, USC 3, 7:24 left in first quarter

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It’s the Gary Bryant Jr. Show: Trojans take early 3-0 lead

We’re underway at the Norm Chow Bowl, and Gary Bryant Jr. launched the opening drive in spectacular fashion, returning the opening kickoff 62 yards, then turning a short Jaxon Dart pass into a 16-yard gain before the drive stalled six plays later. Parker Lewis booted a 26-yard field goal to give USC an early lead.

USC 3, BYU 0, 11:20 left in first quarter

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Only because I found this really funny

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Keaontay Ingram out for tonight’s game

USC running back Keaontay Ingram's is tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns, with five.
USC running back Keaontay Ingram’s is tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns, with five.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

USC’s leading rusher Keaontay Ingram was not dressed for warmups as the Trojans prepared for their home finale against No. 13 BYU on Saturday.

Ingram, who was expected to be a game-time decision with an upper body injury, has a career-high 911 rushing yards this season.

The Trojans (4-6, 3-5 Pac-12) are clinging to their bowl chances, needing wins against the Cougars on Saturday and a victory at California next week.

USC is already without top receiver Drake London, who broke his ankle last month. Without Ingram, the Trojans can turn to senior Vavae Malepeai, whose 296 rushing yards rank second on the team. Malepeai is tied for the team-lead in rushing touchdowns, equaling Ingram’s five.

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USC freshmen try to trust the process while losing redshirts during lost season

Raesjon Davis during his high school days at Mater Dei.
(Shotgun Spratling / For The Times)

Rashad Davis raised his son to trust in the process. To wait his turn. To earn his keep. But as he has watched Raesjon spend most of his freshman season at USC on the sideline, he has sometimes had a hard time following his own advice.

When Raesjon Davis signed with USC, he was the second-highest-rated recruit in the Trojans’ 2021 class and the No. 3 player in the state, a rangy linebacker from Santa Ana Mater Dei who could rush the passer with abandon or hold his own in coverage. His signing was a significant victory for USC, capping what felt like a major recruiting turnaround.

His freshman season hasn’t exactly reflected that significance. Davis has played only 12 snaps over two games on USC’s defense, 11 of which came in the season opener against San Jose State. But although his defensive role disappeared, Davis still played in nine games this season on USC’s kickoff and punt return teams, making him ineligible to redshirt under NCAA rules, which allow players to appear in a maximum of four games.

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Leave Iowa State? Matt Campbell’s answer may alter USC’s coaching search

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell claps during a game against Texas Tech on Saturday.
(Brad Tollefson / Associated Press)

Interested observers of Matt Campbell from Los Angeles to Baton Rouge, La., to Gainesville, Fla., may be looking for a blueprint as to how a pursuit could proceed in the coming days. There is one man other than Campbell himself who can be of some assistance — the only athletic director who has ever seen the long-coveted Iowa State head coach say goodbye to a place he loves.

The man’s name is Mike O’Brien, and he’s been the Toledo athletic director for two decades. O’Brien oversaw the promotion of Campbell to offensive coordinator, named him interim head coach when Tim Beckman left for Illinois, evaluated his performance in that role — “It was as if nothing had changed,” he would note — and then made Campbell, at age 32, the youngest head coach at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

The two developed a strong bond as Campbell won 35 games in four seasons, but O’Brien always knew, possibly even more than young Campbell, that it would come to an end. That’s just how it was in the Mid-American Conference — if a coach had success, he left.

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USC vs. BYU: College football betting odds, lines, spread and how to watch

It is Rivalry Week across college football, but not for USC. Last week’s game against rival UCLA was one to forget, and a season to forget will be one step closer to coming to an end Saturday against Brigham Young.

Last week’s 62-33 loss at the hands of the Bruins was yet another black mark on the season. The only win in the last five games for the Trojans came against lowly Arizona, and even that victory was a struggle. A loss here would eliminate USC from making a bowl game. At 4-6, the Trojans need to win both of its last two games to become bowl eligible.

With the Trojans listed as a 6.5-point underdog at home, an upset will be needed to have any hope.

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

USC quarterback Jaxson Dart talks with teammates during a win over Arizona on Oct. 30.
(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.

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