Looking Back On BYU Football’s History Against USC
PROVO, Utah – Former athletic director Rondo Fehlberg shot for the stars regarding non-conference scheduling for the BYU football program. During Fehlberg’s brief but impactful four-year stint overseeing athletics at BYU from 1995-99, he wanted to take BYU’s already good out-of-league slates to new heights.
Fehlberg lined up scheduling agreements with Alabama (with the help of former BYU AD Glen Tuckett), Notre Dame, Michigan, LSU, and western powerhouse USC.
Some of those scheduling agreements never materialized, but a home-and-home with the men of Troy did. When Fehlberg lined up a home-and-home series with USC in 1998, the Trojans and Cougars weren’t going to play until 2008 at the earliest.
BYU fans probably would have preferred to face the Trojans in 2008 as they were fresh off back-to-back 11-win seasons. But, instead, BYU played the games against mighty USC in 2003 and 2004. A pair of seasons that produced low points for BYU football both on and off the field. For USC, those years were the beginning of a new Trojan dynasty under Pete Carroll. Which no one saw coming after the 2001 season.
If anyone was going to have a dynasty, it was Gary Crowton and BYU. Crowton led BYU to a 12-win season featuring an explosive offense that produced a Doak Walker Award-winning running back in Luke Staley. Carroll, a two-time burnout in the NFL at that time, landed at USC in 2001, and his first year with the Trojans featured a 10-6 Las Vegas Bowl loss to 7-4 Utah.
No one could have predicted the direction BYU and USC would have gone from there.
The same could be said for this year’s meeting. No one coming into this season expected BYU to be the team knocking on the door of a 10-win season while USC was fighting for bowl eligibility.
This Saturday’s game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will be the fourth meeting all-time between BYU and USC. The Trojans lead the all-time series 2-1. All of the meetings have featured at least one ranked team in each contest, and that will continue on Saturday night as BYU rolls out into Los Angeles, ranked No. 13 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
Here’s a look back at the previous three BYU-USC meetings on the gridiron.
2003: No. 4 USC 35, BYU 18
The first meeting between the two historic western programs was on an ABC regional telecast that featured Keith Jackson, Dan Fouts, and BYU alum Todd Harris on the call.
After leaving the plains with a dominating victory over trendy preseason National Title pick Auburn, USC rolled into the BYU game feeling bigger than life. The Trojans jumped on BYU, scoring 21 unanswered before the Cougars and their 3-3-5 defense could even blink.
Speaking of Bronco Mendenhall’s 3-3-5 defense, Dan Fouts interviewed Bronco Mendenhall in the Friday prep meeting. Fouts said in the ABC telecast, “I thought I was talking to David Copperfield with his talk of illusions and tricks.”
BYU’s offense magically got back into the game despite having to go through three quarterbacks in that contest. Freshman tight end Daniel Coats had the Trojan faithful sweating in the Coliseum as BYU trailed 21-18 in the fourth quarter.
— Mitch Harper (@Mitch_Harper) November 23, 2021
BYU made their run while USC WR Mike Williams left due to injury. He returned in the fourth quarter and the Cougars had no answer for the future first-round NFL draft pick. The Trojans pulled away late to secure a 35-18 victory.
That was the type of performance for a BYU team coming off a 5-7 season; you could chalk up to a moral victory because they pushed one of the nation’s best. But in all reality, it didn’t lead to much as BYU finished the 2003 season with a 4-8 record.
2004: No. 1 USC 42, BYU 10
Technically, this game never happened if you go based on the NCAA’s ruling to vacate all of USC’s wins in 2004 due to the improper benefits surrounding Reggie Bush. But we’re not going to follow the NCAA’s lead. USC in 2004 was one of the greatest college football teams ever assembled, and they rolled into Provo for the first time.
The 2004 meeting marked the first time since the 1990 Miami game that BYU football hosted a No. 1 ranked team. ESPN’s Ron Franklin, who called BYU-Miami, was in the booth for BYU’s home tilt against USC. But there was no Tysman type of magic to pull from for BYU against the Trojans. USC, led by Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, was a juggernaut at this point.
Whenever you see a montage of Reggie Bush USC highlights, you’re probably going to see some clips from Bush’s performance against BYU in 2004 (it’s easy to tell based on that distinct LES lighting, you know what I’m talking about). The sophomore sensation ran for 124 yards and a touchdown as the Trojans rolled to a 42-10 victory.
This meeting also marked the return of longtime BYU OC Norm Chow making his first trip back to Provo. Chow would later make additional visits with UCLA, Utah, and Hawaii in his coaching career.
BYU’s lone bright spot from this game was a 69-yard touchdown hookup from John Beck to star receiver Todd Watkins. It was the first of many deep balls between the two, leading Sports Illustrated to say that season later, Watkins was maybe the nation’s best deep threat.
2019: BYU 30, No. 24 USC 27 (OT)
During BYU football’s 2013 Media Day, athletic director Tom Holmoe announced a three-game scheduling agreement with the USC Trojans. The first meeting of the two-for-one arrangement was set to take place in Provo in 2019.
BYU’s 2019 contest against the Trojans was memorable as it was the first victory over USC, but it was an entertaining football game.
Both teams had a lot of question marks entering the season. Still, the nation quickly turned their questions with USC into emphatic answers after Clay Helton’s squad defeated Stanford in the Coliseum the previous week. They climbed into AP Top 25 rankings and had people buzzing about their new Air Raid offense with Graham Harrell as offensive coordinator.
BYU, led by QB Zach Wilson, was fresh off an overtime victory to Tennessee in Knoxville. The Cougars entered the USC game as an underdog again, but they had a plan to stop the Trojans’ high-powered offense that featured star receivers Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Tyler Vaughns.
BYU dropped eight into coverage and forced the Trojans to run the football. The plan worked as BYU pulled off the upset, leading to fans storming the field and feeling that Cougar Football was back.
Zach Wilson had one of his best performances of his BYU career that day, throwing for 280 yards and a touchdown and adding on a memorable fourth-quarter 16-yard touchdown run that put BYU up by three.
BYU’s win was running back Ty’Son Williams’ final full game at BYU. The former South Carolina transfer rushed for 99 yards on 19 carries in the win.
No. 13 BYU vs. USC
Date: Saturday, November 27, 2021
Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. (MT)
Radio: KSL NewsRadio (Pregame begins at 6:30 p.m.)
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.
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