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Cougars had Trojan fans concerned

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LOS ANGELES — Oh, yeah, BYU kept the streak alive, but Gary Crowton better shop around for a better rabbit's foot to hang on his key chain.

Perhaps Crowton should call down to South Bend earlier than his November date and ask Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham where he got his little furry token. The Fighting Irish screamed back from 19-6 in the fourth quarter to defeat Washington State in overtime Saturday.

A few hours later, Crowton's club self-destructed, then carved out an impressive comeback before the Men of Troy in the Coliseum. BYU (1-1) stumbled out of the chute and trailed 21-0 after 15 minutes. Most of the damage was self-inflicted.

BYU toiled back to trail just 21-18 with plenty of chances for an upset. But in the end, BYU's bad luck returned and opportunistic USC wasted no time using All-American receiver Mike Williams' second touchdown reception to put the game back in blowout mode at 35-18.

"We're very fortunate to win this game because they had many opportunities to make plays to get on top of this game," USC coach Pete Carroll said.

Interpretation: USC faithful were squirming in the fourth quarter.

"We thought we could pop some things on them and we didn't," Carroll said. "We were very concerned. We couldn't get anything going consistently. BYU presents a very different scheme, and it was very effective and I credit their coaches and players."

The Trojan coach called BYU's defense "crazy" and "nasty" and credited BYU's new coordinator, Bronco Mendenhall, for effectively installing a real weapon that almost undid his USC offense.

What did we learn from this trip to the West Coast?

First, BYU's defense is solid if not capable of dominating. The Cougars got three interceptions from Levi Madarieta, John Denney and Brady Poppinga before fading late when the offense drew blanks.

Mendenhall's men molested USC quarterback Matt Leinart consistently most of the night. BYU's defense limited Norm Chow's offense to 306 yards, while a mistake-ridden Cougar offense gained 359. BYU held USC to just 17 first downs while posting 19. USC had six sacks for 37 yards while the Cougars registered four for 22.

Which offense faced the tougher defense Saturday night?

Difference in these two teams? USC got easy touchdowns via the Coug miscues. BYU didn't get any at all.

Second, the Cougar offense showed signs of explosiveness in face of the toughest defense they'll face all year. Matt Berry made up for underthrown passes (two of his three interceptions), by getting hot in the third quarter and completing 12 of 16.

But for the second game in a row the Cougars made enough mistakes to last a month in one night. A week ago it was 16 penalties in a win over Georgia Tech. Saturday BYU's mistakes included three interceptions, three fumbles, a muffed punt catch, and a protection breakdown that led to a USC lineman intercepting Berry for a 16-yard first quarter touchdown and 10 penalties for 91 yards.

If the Cougars are to make a statement in coming weeks, they'll need to clean up their act big time.

There is light at the end of the Cougar den. You saw enough of Mendenhall's defense to envision defenders who could forge a MWC championship run starting at New Mexico next Saturday.

Cougar tight end Daniel Coats scored one touchdown, and his career-high 8 catches were good for 114 yards. Williams, the player of the game, caught 10 for 124.

"We thought we could do a better job on him (Coats), but he ended up making a lot of plays," Carroll said.

Coats is something Crowton can build on sans a working rabbit's foot, Marcus Whalen and former starting corner Brandon Heaney.

Thanks to BYU's defense, there may have been a Notre Dame-like comeback from the Cougars. In a stretch, you could say it was right there.

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com