Gary Bryant Jr. broke off his route one yard short of the sticks on fourth and six, and USC’s bowl hopes were shattered.
The receiver was tackled after a five-yard gain when USC needed six to keep its bowl hopes alive, dooming the Trojans to a 35-31 loss to No. 13 Brigham Young on Saturday night at the Coliseum. Now guaranteed a losing record, the Trojans (4-7, 3-6 Pac-12) will miss a bowl game for the third time in four years. That hasn’t happened since Paul Hackett’s forgettable tenure from 1999 to 2001.
USC notched its fifth loss of the year at home, the most for a season since 2000.
Although USC was at the Coliseum, it felt more like a night in Provo, Utah than Los Angeles. At least half of the fans in the Coliseum wore BYU blue and white. Visiting fans drowned out the Trojans faithful as BYU took the field before the game and sent the teams to the locker rooms at halftime amid a loud “B-Y-U!” chant as the Cougars led 21-13.
Some of the sins that drove USC fans away during the program’s recent lull persisted Saturday. Long plays given up. BYU receivers running open. Penalties negating positive plays.
No flag proved more consequential than a roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive end Drake Jackson that wiped out an interception by Chris Steele on BYU’s first drive of the second half. The play would have given USC the ball at BYU’s 35-yard line. Instead, the Cougars marched down the field and scored on a 41-yard pass from Jaren Hall to Keanu Hill that put them up 28-13.
But these Trojans, after getting blown out at home four times already this season, fought to make a favorable last impression on their home fans. Facing their largest deficit of the game, the Trojans scored 18 unanswered points and took the lead on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jaxson Dart to Bryant with 11:03 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Dart scrambled out of the pocket to his right and completed a pass to freshman Lake McRee for a two-point conversion that put USC up by three. Cheers from BYU fans were replaced by Trojans fans chanting “U-S-C!”
The USC defense that was on pace to allow school records in points and yards per game showed resilience that has been rare this season. With USC trying to protect its three-point lead, freshman Calen Bullock missed a tackle that allowed BYU to convert on fourth and three but came back two plays later to secure an interception in the end zone. It was Bullock’s second of the season.
But the Cougars (10-2) regained the lead with 3:57 remaining on a seven-yard touchdown run from Jackson McChesney, and beat their fifth Pac-12 team this year.
Between Dart, Bullock and McRee, the Trojans got a glimpse at what they hope could be a bright future. The three freshmen each provided starring moments, including McRee’s four catches for a team-high 63 yards. Dart completed 23 of 35 passes for 248 yards and one touchdown in his second start of the year, filling in for the injured Kedon Slovis.
Even without leading rusher Keaontay Ingram, who missed the game with an upper-body injury, the Trojans outrushed BYU 210-189.
Vavae Malepeai, who was one of several seniors honored before Saturday’s home finale, led the Trojans with 99 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown.