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BYU football report card: Cougars cap stellar season against Power 5 with another tight win

BYU running back Jackson McChesney (21) celebrates with offensive lineman Clark Barrington (56) after scoring a touchdown.
BYU running back Jackson McChesney (21) celebrates with offensive lineman Clark Barrington (56) after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against the Southern California in Los Angeles, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Ashley Landis, Associated Press

BYU was plenty familiar with playing close games against Pac-12 opponents this year: in five contests against teams from that league, the Cougars went a perfect 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 6.6 points.

The latest came Saturday night, as No. 13 BYU beat struggling USC 35-31 at historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The victory gave the Cougars their 10th win of the season, including a 6-1 record against Power Five opponents.

Unlike its previous four games against Pac-12 opponents, though, BYU found itself trailing in the fourth quarter against USC after the Trojans rallied for 18 straight points to take a three-point lead.

Just like the other matchups against Pac-12 foes, though, BYU used a defining fourth-quarter drive to wrap up the win, as the Cougars marched 62 yards for the game-winning score with just under four minutes to play, and the BYU defense held off a final USC threat.

Here’s how the Cougars graded in their win over the 4-7 Trojans:

Offense

USC was coming off allowing rival UCLA 62 points in a blowout loss the week before, so it looked like BYU would have the opportunity to build off its recent offensive success in Los Angeles.

Early on, the Cougars were indeed building toward having another hugely successful day offensively.

BYU scored touchdowns on three of its first four offensive possessions, driving more than 70 yards on each of those scoring possessions to build a 21-10 lead.

But then Jaren Hall was intercepted on a drive just before halftime, and while BYU was able to string enough offense after that to earn the win, the Cougars’ offensive rhythm had been disrupted.

BYU, normally excellent at protecting the ball, ended up with two turnovers after Hall threw a second pick in the fourth quarter.

The Cougars, though, overcame these struggles to score two critical second-half touchdowns — one on a 41-yard Keanu Hill grab on the opening possession of the second half, and the second a 7-yard touchdown run from reserve running back Jackson McChesney with 3:57 to play to give BYU a 35-31 lead.

Hall had an average game, completing 20 of 32 passes for 276 yards, two touchdowns and the two interceptions to go with 26 rushing yards.

Tyler Allgeier again was a force in the run game, picking up 111 yards and two second-quarter touchdowns on the ground while adding 35 receiving yards.

Puka Nacua made some nice plays, too, with three catches for 42 yards and BYU’s first touchdown on a 28-yard catch, while Hill had a team-high 72 receiving yards and the score on four receptions.

Some unsung heroes made notable contributions for BYU, too, at critical junctures.

Dallin Holker caught three passes for 56 yards, but his biggest moment came on BYU’s game-winning drive.

Allgeier fumbled at the end of an 8-yard gain, and Holker snapped up the ball, then ran 22 additional yards to get the Cougars deep into USC territory and set up the game-winning touchdown.

McChesney, too, was big late in a reserve role. The seldom-used back entered the game on BYU’s final drive for a banged up Allgeier and had three carries for 17 yards, including the 7-yard touchdown.

Overall, BYU did enough to earn the victory over a storied program, rolling up 465 yards of total offense on a night where they were an effective 7 of 14 on third downs.

Grade: B

Defense

BYU faced a quarterback plenty of its own players were familiar with, as the Trojans started true freshman Jaxson Dart, a Utah native who played at both Roy and Corner Canyon High.

The Cougars never sacked Dart, never forced a turnover and struggled to keep him contained at times, as he completed 23 of 35 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown.

He also ran for 28 yards and a touchdown.

For a BYU defense that’s had its depth tested in recent weeks with injuries piling up, it was far from a perfect outing as USC put up 458 yards of total offense.

The Cougars, though, got the job done.

BYU forced USC to punt on three out of its first four-half possessions following an early field goal.

The Trojans flipped that around, scoring points on their next four possessions, including an 18-point swing that gave them a 31-28 lead.

The Trojans’ running attack led that charge, as USC rushed for 219 yards. Senior back Vavae Malepeai paced that attack, finishing with 99 rushing yards and a touchdown.

When the Cougars really needed two big stops, though, they got them.

The first stop came after Hall’s second interception, when USC led by three and had a chance to build its lead but BYU forced a three-and-out.

After the Cougars scored to go up 35-31, USC then got the ball back with the chance to win the game.

While the Trojans utilized their running attack to move easily into BYU territory, eventually USC faced a fourth-and-6 at the BYU 15 in the final minute.

Dart connected with Gary Bryant Jr. on a pass, but BYU’s Kaleb Hayes secured the tackle a yard short of the first down, ensuring BYU’s victory.

Hayes had a standout game with three tackles and three pass breakups, including one near the goal line, as he excelled in 1-on-1 coverage.

Linebackers Max Tooley and Ben Bywater tied for the BYU lead with 13 tackles each, and Tooley added 1.5 tackles for loss.

It wasn’t perfect, but BYU’s defense made the plays when it had to.

Grade: B

Special teams

BYU’s special teams got off to an inauspicious start, as the Cougars allowed USC’s Bryant Jr. to return the opening kickoff 62 yards to the BYU 34.

That led to USC scoring a field goal and taking an early 3-0 lead.

Other than that, special teams played little impact in the game, though the Trojans’ Parker Lewis hit a trio of field goals to help USC stay close with the Cougars.

BYU’s Jake Oldroyd did hit a field goal in the second quarter, but after USC was called for offsides, the Cougars went for the conversion on fourth-and-1 and Allgeier scored his first touchdown.

The Cougars’ Ryan Rehkow had another solid night, averaging 44.7 yards on three punts. He pinned two inside the 20 and hit a 51-yard field goal.

While special teams could be overlooked, BYU did its job in that aspect after the early game gaffe.

Grade: C