Provo • BYU’s defenders know they must stop USC quarterback Kedon Slovis for the Cougars to have a shot at upsetting the Trojans on Saturday when the teams meet at 1:30 p.m. in Provo, but what if Slovis doesn’t even have to bother attacking the Cougars with his passing talent? What if the Trojans just elect to take the ball and run it through the heart of the BYU defense?
It’s not a scenario out of the realm of possibility.
“If you watched film on us they would say ‘Hey let’s come in and run the ball on them,’” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said. “We know we have to stop it.”
The Cougars gave up 262 rushing yards to Utah and 242 yards to Tennessee. The Utah loss in particular was frustrating because the Cougars only ran five plays in the third quarter and 13 in the fourth quarter, thanks in part to Utah’s ground game that kept backing up BYU’s defense and burning up the clock.
The Cougars made some key stops against Tennessee’s run game in the second half, but they acknowledged they still have a lot of improving to do.
“The defense takes a lot of pride in stopping the run and the last few weeks we’ve let some big runs go,” BYU’s Zayne Anderson said. “We aren’t known for that and we met after the Tennessee game and weren’t happy with it and talked about stopping the run and controlling the [line of] scrimmage.”
No. 24 USC AT BYU
When • Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4
The Trojans have an extremely talented group of receivers, led by senior Michael Pittman Jr. and junior Tyler Vaughns, but the running game is solid, too, even though Aca’Cedric Ware, the top back in 2018, is gone.
Junior Vavae Malepeai (6-0, 220) has 35 runs for 176 yards and three touchdowns this year and is backed up by Stephen Carr (6-0, 210), who has 12 carries for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
Slovis has gotten the headlines after passing for 377 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-20 win over Stanford, but the Cougars believe the offense is more balanced than it might seem.
“Everyone goes after the quarterback because he handles the ball every play and makes decisions but you can’t deny all the weapons they have and what they can do in the run game,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “We have to be well balanced and progressing as a defense.”
Even though they gave up a lot of yards at Tennessee, the Cougars are encouraged that they made some big stops in the second half to make the comeback possible.
They need more stands such as those against USC said defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga said.
“I feel like we have been improving a lot from Utah to the Tennessee game,” he said. “We still have a lot to learn from that game and grow as a defense and continue to get better.”