A second-straight double-digit win season, its slim hopes to get into a New Year’s Six bowl game and an undefeated record (4-0) against Pac-12 teams are all on the line for No. 14 BYU on Saturday against slumping USC in the famed Los Angeles Coliseum, but the Cougars refuse to get caught up in all that look-ahead stuff, coach Kalani Sitake said Monday.
“We focus on the here and now,” Sitake told the Deseret News in his weekly press briefing. “I know that everyone wants to talk about possibilities and future opponents and things like that, but we are focused on this game and this opportunity.”
It is the regular-season finale for 9-2 BYU, while USC (4-6) will play a makeup game against Cal on Dec. 4 and needs to win both games to get bowl eligible. That opportunity for postseason play, coupled with the usual motivation sparked by Senior Night festivities, will have the uber-talented Trojans ready to play, Sitake predicted.
“There is no lack of talent there,” Sitake said. “I know a lot of guys on that staff. I know how they coach, and they will have their guys ready to roll. What you see on film is what you are going to get, and we are going to get the best from them. And we are going to be prepared for that.”
It will be BYU’s third time facing an interim head coach this season, as Donte Williams is filling in for Clay Helton, who was fired Sept. 14. Trojans defensive line coach Vic So’oto played for BYU from 2005-10 and USC’s defensive quality control analyst is C.J. Ah You, who played for BYU in 2001 and 2003 before finishing his career at Oklahoma.
Former Corner Canyon star Jaxson Dart, whom BYU recruited heavily, is expected to start at quarterback for USC.
“The anticipation from us is that we are going to get their best, and that their best is really, really good,” Sitake said. “You can see it on film when they put it together. Man, they can be very dangerous, and we have to be prepared for that. We have to plan on that taking place Saturday night.”
Sitake said Dart, who displayed outstanding and head-scratching moments befitting a freshman in USC’s 62-33 loss to UCLA on Saturday, is a great player from a wonderful family.
“He can hurt you with his arm, and he can run as well,” Sitake said. “Put that all together and surround him with a physical offensive line and capable receivers and ball carriers, and they have every bit of our attention.”
That’s why the Cougars won’t comment on the CFP rankings — a new batch will be released Tuesday night — or what they might need to do to move into better consideration for an NY6 if enough teams ranked above them falter.
“No, we are just worried about the next game,” quarterback Jaren Hall said Monday, when asked if CFP rankings and bowl destinations are getting much run inside the locker room.
Hall, who is No. 19 in the country in passing efficiency (157.65), said he is “absolutely, for sure, 100%” looking forward to playing in the Coliseum against such a storied program, regardless of its current record.
He worked out with Dart under the tutelage of former BYU QB John Beck in SoCal last summer and knows the Utahn well.
“The dude throws the heck out of the ball,” Hall said. “I wish the best for him.”
Sitake showed little regard for style points, the CFP rankings and the like when he refused to tack on a late touchdown in BYU’s 34-17 win over Georgia Southern last Saturday, and reiterated Monday that those topics are not being discussed at all with his players this week, and not just because it is Thanksgiving on Thursday.
“That’s the best way to show gratitude, is enjoy the moment, and enjoy the day. Why worry about Tuesday when you have the rest of Monday to focus on?” he said. “Our goal is to try to be razor-sharp and focused and have this vision on taking it day to day, with the long-term goal being the game on Saturday night.”
Sitake said the Cougars will practice Thursday morning, then let the players and coaches enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with their friends and families the remainder of the day. They will fly to Los Angeles on Friday.
“Most of them have a place to go, but we want them to be in a setting where they will have family (atmosphere), so they will go with coaches’ families or with their teammates, just enjoying good food and good company,” he said. “It is a good time to just relax and have the opportunity to be thankful for a lot of different things that have gone on in their lives. I want them to reflect on that. Our players do it often anyways, and so it is good that we can dedicate this time to being focused on the wonderful things we have in life.”
Hall said he will have Thanksgiving dinner at his in-laws house with his wife, Breanna, and newborn daughter, Jayde Mae.
“I will just go eat some good food and try not to get too plump so we can still be fast on Saturday,” he said. “We will just practice in morning and then spend time with our families the rest of the day.”