Rising No. 15 BYU set to take on South Florida

NCAA Football

BYU is quickly proving last season’s success is no fluke.

The No. 15 Cougars (3-0) are fresh off beating Top 25 opponents in back-to-back weeks and have not trailed in any game this season. Now they head into Saturday’s game against South Florida looking like a legitimate threat to make a run at a spot in the College Football Playoff.

“We’re 3-0 against good opponents,” BYU quarterback Jaren Hall said. “What more can you ask for?”

Still, BYU isn’t taking anything for granted after three weeks. The Cougars feel like they are still a work in progress on both sides of the ball. Against Arizona State, BYU struggled with turnovers and gave up numerous chunk plays defensively despite holding the Sun Devils to 17 points.

“We feel like we could have played better, and I feel like as a head coach I have got to get our team in a better position to have more efficiency and playing at our best,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “That’s going to be the focus this week is executing well and everybody knowing their assignments.”

BYU has some definite areas where it has excelled on both sides of the ball to this point.

Hall has done well as Zach Wilson’s successor. He had his finest game yet in leading BYU to a 27-17 victory over Arizona State. Hall matched his career-high with 214 passing yards and threw for two touchdowns. He also ran for 38 yards on seven carries. His strong arm, elusiveness in the pocket, and speed as a runner have given opponents fits to this point.

Defensively, the Cougars have forced seven turnovers in their first three games and rank in the Top 10 nationally in takeaways. BYU will face the dilemma of replacing leading tackler Keenan Pili after he suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Sun Devils. Pili had 31 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss through his first three games.

Facing the Cougars presents a definite challenge to South Florida. The Bulls have been outscored 87-20 by FBS opponents so far this season.

USF (1-2) finally got in the win column with a 38-17 victory over Florida A&M. The Bulls ran for 241 yards and totaled 404 yards on offense. Timmy McClain, a freshman, made his first career start at quarterback and got USF up and running. McClain threw for 163 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 51 yards in just three quarters of action.

Getting an emphatic win over an in-state FCS foe may not sound impressive on paper, but the Bulls are hoping it serves as a turning point for a program that had won just once in its previous 14 games dating back to 2019.

“The natural thing when you go through this much adversity, between last year and this year, is to split up and divide,” USF coach Jeff Scott said. “Our guys have not done that. They’ve stuck together. They’ve continued to work hard and have shown up each and every day. They’re continuing to move forward.”

South Florida upset BYU 27-23 in 2019 in the only previous game between the two schools. The Bulls rallied from a 13-point deficit and scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull off the comeback.

–Field Level Media

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