That said, there will be no one cheering louder or harder for BYU on Saturday night than I. Moreover, while the challenge of beating USC is considerable, it is not impossible. Here are 10 reasons for guarded optimism for BYU and five areas where the Cougars are vulnerable.
HOW BYU CAN BEAT USC:
1) Confidence: Both teams come into this game knowing that for the better part of 3 quarters in last year's game - BYU was the better team. Early turnovers put BYU in a deep hole that they could never quite dig out of. BYU knows they can play with USC, but they also know that to win they must play much smarter.
2) Brady Poppinga, Aaron Francisco and Brandon Heaney: These seniors have too much heart and character - and too much invested in this program - to allow the kind of performance we saw in the fourth quarter of the Stanford game last week to continue. You can bet they will have the team ready for USC.
3) USC offensive line vs. BYU defensive line: It would be a stretch to call the USC offensive line a "weakness." But with only one returning starter from last year, USC's line is relatively inexperienced and, at this point, not as good as the offensive line BYU faced last year.
The USC line is talented though and quickly improving and jelling. USC had a lot success running the ball last week against Colorado State, but that may be more a measure of Colorado State's defense than USC's offense.
BYU's defensive line is strong, deep and proving to be pretty stingy against the run. USC may have a difficult time running the ball against BYU and may have problems recognizing some of BYU's blitz schemes they haven't used so far this season.
4) Quarterback John Beck: We have seen, unfortunately, too much of the "stable" of BYU quarterbacks because of injuries. Quite frankly, we just need to see more of John Beck. In my opinion, he is the only quarterback in the program with the arm and moxie to legitimately threaten a good defense like the one USC brings to Provo Saturday.
Beck has looked very good in the handful of series he's played in. One bit of good news is that USC probably does not have a full scouting report on him since they've hardly seen him play. Hopefully, he will be healthy, stay healthy and provide a few surprises.
5) Open Receivers: With all the gnashing of teeth going on the last two days, a few things have been overlooked about the offensive performance last Saturday night. BYU had almost 300 yards passing against a pretty good Stanford defense. Moreover, we had receivers open all over the field all night. We really should have had 500 yards passing. The problem was vision and/or inaccurate throws. Like Stanford, USC will also play a lot of zone and I think our receivers will find some open spaces.
6) Matt Payne: I think Payne will need to be a key weapon for BYU this weekend. Without a running game, BYU will have problems scoring touchdowns once we get in the red zone. We'll need Payne to be nails on field goals and to also keep USC pinned deep in their own end of the field – as he did against Notre Dame.
7) USC wide receivers: This group for USC is talented, but not as talented as last year. BYU will need to be very careful, but there isn't a Mike Williams> 8) Desperation: I continue to believe this BYU team will be a good team. More importantly, I think they are desperate to prove they are a good team and worthy of the respect of their fans, much less the likes of USC and Notre Dame. I expect BYU to come out with fire in their eyes ready to play.
9) Gary Crowton: After a one week reprieve, he's back on the hot seat. For Crowton and his coaching staff, this game is HUGE. They know they must do their best to get BYU ready to play a tough opponent on national TV.
10) LaVell Edwards Stadium: USC's depth will be mitigated somewhat by the effects of altitude, but if the Cougars can keep the game close into the second half, I think the crowd will really get into the game and that could help swing momentum the Cougars way.
5 REASONS WHY BYU CAN'T WIN AGAINST USC:
1) Turnovers and penalties: It doesn't take a rocket scientist to devise a defensive game plan for BYU right now – don't give up the long ball and wait for BYU to self-destruct. It happened last year in the first quarter against USC and last week against Stanford. BYU must be more disciplined physically and mentally. USC will be ruthless in penalizing them for their mistakes.
2) USC defensive line vs. BYU offensive line: USC's defensive line is scary good. BYU hasn't had any success running the ball this season and that isn't likely to change this week. Moreover, if the Trojans can pressure our quarterback without any help from blitzing linebackers, it will be a very long night for the BYU offense.
With John Beck playing healthy, the key to BYU's season right now is its offensive line. Unless they make dramatic improvements, BYU will continue to struggle with the running game and continue to rotate quarterbacks in/out of the rehab recovery room.
3) Norm Chow: As much as Chow will publicly deny it, this is not just another game for him. This is his chance to show up his critics on their turf. Make not mistake, Chow will be ready and he will have his team ready.
4) Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White: These guys are awesome and Chow knows how to use them. Expect Bush to be everywhere on the field creating match up problems for linebackers and safeties. White is also a huge running threat and Hershel Dennis may even be back for this game.
Also, don't expect Leinart to make the same rookie mistakes he did last year against BYU. If there is a whole in the BYU defense, these guys will find and exploit it.
5) Confidence: USC has the swagger and confidence of a national championship team – a team that believes it is more talented and better coached than the opposition. The Trojans aren't going to panic if things aren't going their way. They believe their coaches will make the right adjustments and that someone, somewhere, someway, will make a play for USC.
KNUTE'S PREDICTION: Neither team will generate much offense via the running game. BYU will have some success moving the ball, but will stall in the red zone. USC will hit on a few big plays to lead 14-9 at half time. BYU will score an early third quarter touchdown to move ahead. In the end, the leopard can't change his spots and BYU turns the ball over a few too many times. USC 35, BYU 20.
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