PROVO — A few weeks ago, when prognosticators looked at BYU’s early 2019 football schedule and searched for possible wins that could help the Cougars avert an 0-4 start, or the like, one future opponent in particular stood out.
That would be tradition-rich USC, believe it or not. The Trojans went 5-7 in 2018, losing their last three games, and looked more vulnerable than Utah, Tennessee or Washington to a BYU upset, especially since they were ticketed to return to Provo for the first time since 2004.
However, Saturday night’s dramatic turn of events changed all that.
First, the Cougars (1-1) pulled off what is being called “Micah’s Miracle” — Zach Wilson’s 64-yard pass to Micah Simon that set up the tying field goal with less than 30 seconds remaining — and beat Tennessee 29-26 in double overtime to ensure at least one win in September. So they won’t start 0-4.
Second, the Trojans showed later Saturday that they are still very much a contender for the Pac-12 South title in the absence of starting quarterback JT Daniels, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in their lackluster 31-23 victory over Fresno State.
True freshman Kedon Slovis was almost perfect in his first college start, completing 28 of 33 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns as USC walloped No. 23 Stanford 45-20 at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. USC’s defense, which looked a bit vulnerable against Fresno State, shut out the Cardinal in the second half.
Sunday, USC moved into the Associated Press Top 25, landing at No. 24.
The Trojans’ dominance, coupled with Washington’s surprise 20-19 loss to California, just shows that nothing is ever predictable in college football — especially for BYU.
Saturday’s kickoff at LaVell Edwards Stadium is at 1:30 p.m. and it was announced Sunday that the game will be televised nationally by ABC.
“You definitely want to enjoy (the win over Tennessee), but after today we have to lock down and get focused on USC,” said BYU running back Ty’Son Williams, whose 5-yard touchdown run in the second overtime period was the game-winner at Neyland Stadium. “That’s a great team we have coming in. We just want to protect LaVell’s house, so we look forward to next week’s challenge and trying to get another victory.”
What is certain is that the win improved BYU’s record against current SEC schools to 7-7 and injected some much-needed confidence into the program, although most reports out of Knoxville focused on the 0-2 Vols’ demise rather than the Cougars’ late-game heroics.
“I think it just gives us that confidence that we can be a really good team and we have a lot of potential,” said quarterback Zach Wilson, who was 19 of 29 for 232 yards and a touchdown (to Talon Shumway) and did not throw an interception after two costly pick-sixes against Utah in the opener. “We still need to clean up some little things, but we have confidence going into next week and we are excited for USC.”
Wilson, Simon, Shumway and Williams were hailed as the heroes for their late-game throws, catches and runs, but if not for kicker Jake Oldroyd’s accuracy and poise under pressure, nobody would be talking about the comeback.
Oldroyd made four field goals in regulation, including the 33-yarder with a second remaining to tie the score at 16-16 and send the game into overtime, BYU’s first OT game since 2016 against Mississippi State in Provo.
“I didn’t doubt it. I didn’t think twice,” Oldroyd said of the boot that sailed over the left upright and was not good by much. Some Tennessee fans behind the end zone cheered as if the kick was no good, but both referees threw their hands in the air.
The win “gives us a lot of momentum,” said Oldroyd, who made the game-winning field goal three years ago in the opener against Arizona. “I think we finally got an outcome we deserve. … We are all excited for wherever that momentum is going to take us.”
For starters, the Cougars need to regain their swagger at home, where they have struggled the last few years against Power Five teams such as Utah, Cal, UCLA and Wisconsin.
“It was cool to see these guys smiling and having fun,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “Even times when it was really stressful, the guys were just having fun. … The guys showed resiliency because they love to play the game.”
Their plucky quarterback plans to provide some of that play loose-and-free attitude that’s been missing at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“Heading into that last two-minute drive, guys were smiling on the sidelines,” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘shoot, why be nervous? We got nothing to lose. Let’s just go figure it out.’ So I was so happy those guys had the fight all the way down to the last second.”
Fight they will surely need against the Trojans on Saturday.
USC at BYU, 1:30 p.m MT
Radio: KSL 1160 AM