A look at the key matchups as No. 24 USC (2-0, 1-0) takes on Brigham Young (1-1) in Provo, Utah, on Saturday (12:30 p.m. PDT, TV: ABC, Radio: 790):
USC’s running backs vs. BYU’s run defense. The last time USC traveled to Provo, it steamrolled BYU with a dominant performance on the ground from Reggie Bush (124 yards) and LenDale White (110). While the Trojans may not have as much talent in the backfield this season, they’ve been pretty successful using a combination of Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr. That duo will likely be the centerpiece of USC’s game plan, as BYU’s run defense has been a sieve so far this season. Opposing teams have run the ball 97 times in two weeks against the Cougars, and with a young quarterback on the road, there’s no reason to rock the boat.
USC (469.5 ypg, 38 ppg): The Trojans’ new Air Raid offense was firing on all cylinders a week ago, as freshman Kedon Slovis threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns. But was that first start a sign of a bright future, or a flash in the pan? More will be known Saturday, as Slovis and Co. face off against a BYU pass defense that’s allowed just 282 pass yards over the first two weeks. Another stout effort from the USC offensive line would go a long way in making Slovis comfortable. So would another high-powered performance by USC’s running backs. Malepeai and Carr are both averaging more than five yards per carry and have combined for five rushing touchdowns in two weeks.
BYU (319.5 ypg, 20.5 ppg): After squeaking out just 12 points against a tough Utah defense in its season debut, BYU’s offense seemed to have found its rhythm late in last week’s double-overtime win over Tennessee. Still, this is hardly an explosive group. The Cougars will rely on a healthy dose of running back Ty’Son Williams, who is averaging 5.71 yards per carry so far this season, but he isn’t the only one capable of racking up rushing yards. Quarterback Zach Wilson is a viable scrambler, capable of turning a broken play into a big gain. His top target in the passing game, senior receiver Micah Simon, is a big-play threat in his own right, averaging more than 16 yards per catch.
USC (398.5 ypg, 21.5 ppg): It’ll be on USC’s defensive front to mitigate the damage of a scrambling quarterback, but so far, the line has been one of the defense’s bright spots. Even if Christian Rector can’t go, defensive tackles Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu and freshman defensive end Drake Jackson have proved they’re up to the challenge. The underlying uncertainty continues to be on the back end, but the secondary is coming off an impressive second half against Stanford. Olaijah Griffin showed in that game that he has the potential to be USC’s No. 1 cornerback.
BYU (393 ypg, 28 ppg): An experienced group of linebackers anchors the Cougars’ defense, but that hasn’t translated to stopping the run. Only two teams in the FBS have allowed more rushing yards than the 504 yielded by BYU, so it’s safe to expect an early test on the ground from USC. If that works, the Trojans may not even need to challenge BYU much through the air, where the Cougars have been much more effective, with just 282 passing yards allowed.
Through two weeks, USC ranks fourth in the nation in total kickoff return yards and 19th in yards per return (27.4). The Trojans have Velus Jones’ 100-yard touchdown return against Fresno State to thank for those gaudy return numbers. There have only been six total kickoff returns for touchdowns so far this season in college football. Outside of Jones’ long score, USC has averaged just over 18 yards per kickoff return.
In the only two prior meetings between BYU and USC, the Trojans have outscored the Cougars 77-28. In their most recent matchup,, in 2004, USC gained 527 yards in a 42-10 win.
Rector, who injured his ankle against Stanford, is “questionable at best.” … Running back Markese Stepp has a calf injury and is a game-time decision. … Defensive back Chase Williams (shoulder) is expected to play.