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.
When Bryant came up short of the first down, quarterback Jaxson Dart squatted low to the ground and could only stare at the field where the receiver went down. BYU players began to celebrate.
Yet the Trojans, whose season has been in free fall since former head coach Clay Helton was fired after the second game, celebrated the smallest of victories too. It was their first game this year decided by one possession after losing by at least 14 in each of their five home losses. The close call cut as a double-edged sword.
“I hurt for them tonight,” interim head coach Donte Williams said. “Some losses, you don’t really hurt, but tonight, I wish I could have done maybe one thing more than what I did.”
UCLA scores 32 unanswered points in a 42-14 win over California. The Bruins now wait to see which bowl game they’ll land in after their 8-4 season.
USC finished with the most home losses in a season since 2000. The Trojans have a game remaining at California, which was also eliminated from bowl contention on Saturday.
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.
Some of the sins that drove USC fans away during the program’s recent slump persisted Saturday. Long plays given up. BYU receivers running open. Penalties negating positive plays.
None of USC’s eight flags proved more consequential than a roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive end Drake Jackson that wiped out an interception by Chris Steele on BYU’s first drive of the second half. The play would have given USC the ball at BYU’s 35-yard line. Instead, the Cougars marched down the field and scored on a 41-yard pass from Jaren Hall to Keanu Hill that put them up 28-13.
But these Trojans fought to make a favorable last impression on their home fans. Facing their largest deficit of the game, the Trojans scored 18 unanswered points to retake the lead and out-rushed BYU 210-189 despite missing leading rusher Keaontay Ingram.
“We played with pride and that’s something that’s been lacking,” defensive lineman Nick Figueroa said. “Moments like today give us hope for the future. I hope that everyone on this team understands we can play with whoever we have to play with, but it takes more and it feels a little bit different when you walk away from that game.”
In Ingram’s absence, senior Vavae Malepeai led the team in rushing with 99 yards in 20 carries and one touchdown. His score sparked USC’s second-half comeback, which culminated in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Dart to Bryant with 11:03 remaining in the fourth that put the Trojans up by three after a successful two-point conversion from Dart to freshman Lake McRee.
Although USC stopped BYU on its next drive with an interception from freshman Calen Bullock, the Cougars pushed back ahead with a seven-yard touchdown run from Jackson McChesney.
Michigan clinched the Big Ten East title with a 42-27 victory over Ohio State, while No. 3 Alabama outlasted Auburn 24-22 in four overtimes Saturday.
Down four with 3:52 remaining, the Trojans calmly marched down the field on the legs of Malepeai. Dart, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 248 yards and one touchdown, said he felt confident they were going to score and win. But Malepeai was stuffed for no gain on third and six at the BYU 15-yard line.
Facing fourth down, USC went to a tried-and-true play. It was the same call the Trojans used to score the go-ahead touchdown from Dart to Bryant. This time it had a much different result.
“There are a lot of things that look good coming off this,” Dart said. “There’s a lot of the young guys that stepped up and made big plays and I think our team is going to build on that young energy and I think we have a bright future.”
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