This is NOT last year's BYU Cougars. BYU head coach Gary Crowton called a great game and Bronco Mendenhall planned a game-winning strategy. Combined, they devised a game plan that was good enough to upset the 21-point favored Trojans in their own Los Angeles Coliseum with 75,319 fans watching.
The halftime score was 21-5 in favor of USC.
But football games are won in two separate halves and BYU's offense scored an unanswered 18 points to bring the Cougars with to within three points at 21-18 with less than five minutes left in the game.
Then it all fell apart late in the 4th quarter, beginning with a Berry interception that led to a second Matt Leinart to Mike Williams touchdown strike with 4:11 remaining in the game. By the time USC running back Hershel Dennis ran in for a final 11-yard touchdown with 1:40 remaining – after an apparent fumble by running back Fahu Tahi, the game was all but decided. In the end, the USC Trojans rose to the home field challenge, winning with a 35-18 score.
The road game, however, was a lot closer than the final 35-18 score indicated. The Cougars served notice their new defense is for real and their offense sparkles when it doesn't kill itself with untimely turnovers. Anyone will tell you turnovers are always untimely, but the interception by Berry late in the game deprived the Cougars of any chance for another great Cougar comeback.
For USC, the game might best be summed up with the question, "How do you spell R-E-L-I-E-F?" For the Cougars, the appropriate question was, "How do you spell R-E-S-P-E-CT?"
In defeat, the Cougars showed why they are still a team to be reckoned with on the national stage.
Berry and BYU's offense generated two more first downs (19) than USC (17); threw for more yards (313 to USC's 235); had more offensive plays in the game (72 to USC's 67); and generated more total net yards (359 to USC's 306 yards). Both Berry and Leinart had three interceptions each. Both teams were particularly effective in the red zone, with BYU scoring 2-2 and USC 3-3. The different was USC scored three touchdowns from turnovers while BYU countered with two field goals from the dreaded "T" word.
The BYU quarterbacks completed passes to 11 receivers compared to only six for USC. However, the Trojans All-American super sophomore receiver Williams proved to be deadly tonight with 10 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Berry completed 27 of 39 passing attempts for 297 yards, outshining his counterpart Leinart who had 19 completions out of 34 attempts for 235 yards.
For the Cougars, Coats lead all receivers with eight receptions for 114 yards.
Meanwhile, Cougar kicker Matt Payne regained his All-American form with three successful field goals from 53, 52 and 26 yards out.
USC coach Pete Carroll was particularly complimentary of BYU's "crazy defense" that gave the Trojans fits and limited their ground game much more than anyone anticipated. The Cougar defense sacked Leinart six times, compared to four sacks of Berry by the USC defense.
While the Cougars let the score get away in the fourth quarter, it was really the 21-point hole in the first quarter that proved to be the deciding factor.
BYU is not good enough yet to spot a team like USC a three touchdown lead in the first quarter on their own field and still have a realistic chance of catching up and going ahead for a win.
But these Cougars almost did exactly that. When the Cougar offense finally catches up to its defense, what a powerful combination they will truly become.