As the rush descended on Brigham Young’s quarterback, Zach Wilson seemed out of escape routes.
All throughout USC’s 30-27 overtime loss, Wilson’s scrambling had troubled the Trojans, who’d struggled before in similar fashion to wrangle a scrambler.
But as one USC defender missed Wilson, then another, the field opened up in front of him. He hit receiver Gunner Romney down the field for 35 yards.
Two plays later, USC’s front parted, and Wilson essentially walked into the end zone from 16 yards out, giving the Cougars a 27-24 lead.
“He’s very nice with his feet,” USC defensive end Drake Jackson said. “He’s very good in space. When he does quick stuff like that, he’s a playmaker.”
It was a sobering reminder on a sobering afternoon of how much USC has struggled to tackle such playmakers.
Against Fresno State, its defense allowed another scrambling quarterback, Jorge Reyna, to rack up 88 yards on the ground, even though he was barely a threat through the air.
Moving forward, it’s a problem USC will need to quickly fix.
Three of the Trojans’ next four games feature quarterbacks capable of scrambling for extra yards.
On Friday, when Utah comes to the Coliseum, so will quarterback Tyler Huntley, whose average rush trails only Arizona dual threat Khalil Tate.
USC may get defensive end Christian Rector back for the Utah game, after he missed Saturday’s game with an ankle injury. His absence was certainly felt on the edge, where his replacement, Connor Murphy, registered only one tackle.
As USC tried to jump-start its run gameSaturday, it turned not to its top two backs, but its bruising third option.
Markese Stepp made the most of that opportunity, rushing three times for 33 yards on a touchdown drive late in the second quarter. He finished with nine carries for 53 yards, making good on the attention he received throughout the spring and fall.
“I think I did my job,” Stepp said. “We just came up short.”
Stepp’s job was strangely reduced in the third quarter, as he received no carries.
But his work picked up again in the fourth. USC’s coaches sent him out to convert a fourth-and-one play, showing their trust in him. Soon after that, Stepp nearly fumbled deep in the Trojans’ territory.
“He did a nice job,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “But he put the ball on the ground one time and that’s where he’s got to learn.”
With 46 seconds remaining, time enough for one more drive, USC quarterback Kedon Slovis launched a pass deep down the field for Michael Pittman Jr.
But Pittman Jr. got tangled up in a BYU defender. Both fell in a heap on the field.
As the Trojans looked for a defensive pass interference call, they were surprised to hear the exact opposite. Pittman was the one called for interference.
The senior wideout, who finished with 95 yards and two touchdowns, never got an explanation as to why.
“I looked forward to seeing the call on the pass interference,” Helton said, when asked about the flag, “but it was one of those games.”