College Prep Professional Sports

Trapped by BYU, USC faces Utah this week

SPORTS DIGEST

Sometimes I hate being right.

Last week, while still basking in the glow of USC’s 45-20 win over Stanford Sept. 7, I wrote that the Trojans’ upcoming game with BYU could be a trap game. The Trojan players were still celebrating the Stanford win while looking forward to Utah this week.

BYU was coming off an upset against Tennessee in Knoxville and the Cougars are always tough to beat in Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, where the crowd is boisterous and the air is thinner than Southern California’s because of the altitude.

Sure enough, the Cougars knocked off the Trojans, 30-27 in overtime, handing the Trojans their first loss of the season with three tough games coming up. After playing Utah Sept. 20 at 6 p.m., the Trojans play Washington the following week and, after a bye, face Notre Dame Oct. 12 in South Bend.

The joy of the Trojans’ 2-0 start could fade fast if the Trojans wake up 2-4 Oct. 13.

Freshman quarterback sensation Kedon Slovis was not so sensational against BYU, throwing three interceptions, two early and one that ended the game in overtime after the Cougars kicked a field goal on their first possession in overtime.

The final interception came on a third-and-six play at the BYU 21. The pass over the middle was deflected by a Cougar defender into the arms of Dayan Ghanwoloku and the BYU student section rushed the field to celebrate with their team.

Slovis wasn’t bad in his second start as a college quarterback. He completed 24 of 34 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns. But after leading the Trojans to a score on the first drive of the game, the team never found a rhythm. The teams were tied 17-17 at the half, played a scoreless third quarter and were tied 27-27 after regulation.

You let a good team hang around at home and they usually find a way to win at the end and that’s what BYU did.

Head coach Clay Helton has some fixing to do before Utah arrives at the Coliseum Friday night. The Utes beat BYU 30-12 in the season opener at Provo and are ranked 10th in the latest Associated Press poll, the highest ranking of any Pac 12 team.

They are led by tailback Zack Moss, who Helton says will be playing on Sundays next year. Quarterback Tyler Huntley lit the Trojans up for 341 yards and four touchdown passes last year and he can pick up crucial third-down yardage with his legs, too.

Defensively, the Utes are ranked sixth nationally in points allowed and seventh in rushing defense, yielding only 65 yards a game on the ground.

The Trojans have had mixed success running the ball so far this season. Vavae Malepeai gained 99 yards on 23 carries against BYU, averaging 4.2 yards a carry. Markese Stepp averaged 5.9 yards a carry, but only carried the ball nine times for 53 yards. 

Stepp is the most powerful runner in the Trojan backfield. Stephen Carr is the quickest, but he gained only 22 yards in nine carries against BYU.

The Trojans need a win against Utah for their own confidence, if nothing else. The win over Stanford doesn’t look so big in the rearview mirror, especially after the Cardinal lost to Central Florida, 45-27 last week.

With Washington and Notre Dame next on the schedule, the Trojans need to regain their momentum against Utah.

LUCKY RAMS: The New Orleans Saints might want to bring their own referees the next time they play the Rams. After missing out on a trip to the Super Bowl last January when officials missed a blatant pass interference call, the Saints lost a touchdown Sept. 15 when the officials ruled that Ram quarterback Jared Goff was throwing the ball when he actually fumbled.

The Saints returned the fumble for a touchdown, but officials blew the play dead as an incompletion. That call was overturned on replay and the Saints got the football back at their own 11-yard line instead of the touchdown.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees injured his thumb a few minutes later when he was hit by Aaron Donald and the Rams went on to a 27-9 victory that was easier than it looked.

With Brees out, Teddy Bridgewater could lead the Saints to only three field goals. He was no match for Goff, who completed 19 of 28 passes for 283 and a touchdown. 

It was the kind of performance we’ve come to expect from Goff. Not spectacular, but highly effective. He spread the 19 completions around to seven different receivers with Cooper Kupp slowly becoming his favorite target.

Kupp caught five passes for 120 yards, including 64 yards on one catch-and-run that ended just short of the goal line.

Todd Gurley continued to be a cause for concern. He gained 63 yards on 16 carries (less than four yards a carry) and caught three passes for only four yards. That means he gained only 67 yards on 19 touches, not the statistics he was posting at this stage last season.

Maybe he will have a break-out game Sept. 22 when the Rams face the Cleveland Browns on the Sunday night game.

NOT-SO-LUCKY CHARGERS: The Chargers should have defeated the Detroit Lions Sept. 15 on the road. Last year the Chargers won all seven road games they played outside of California. The only time they lost on the road was at the Coliseum to the Rams.

They won’t be able to say that this year after losing to the Lions, 13-10, in a defensive struggle. The Chargers left too many points on the field. With kicker Michael Badgley still sidelined with an injury, the Chargers tried to get away with their punter, Ty Long, handling the place kicking chores as well.

He missed two field goals that most NFL kickers would make.

The Chargers also turned over the ball on a fumble by Austin Ekelar at the goal line and quarterback Philip Rovers threw an interception into the end zone late in the fourth quarter. 

The injury bug is biting the Chargers early in the season. Safety Adrian Phillips broke his arm and will miss at least eight weeks. The Chargers already lost last year’s sensational rookie, Derwin James to a foot injury.

The Chargers host Houston Sept. 22 at 1:15 p.m. 

SPARKS FALL: After winning single-elimination games in the first two playoff rounds, the Los Angeles Sparks lost to the Connecticut Sun, 84-75, Sept. 17 in the first game of a best-of-five semifinal series in the WNBA playoffs. Game two is Sept. 19 in Connecticut and game three will be played at the Long Beach Arena Sept. 22 at 4 p.m.

Forward Alyssa Thomas led the Sun with 22 points and 10 rebounds and three other teammates scored more than 10 points for the Sun. Candace Parker led the way for the Sparks with 24 points and Nneka Ogwumike added 20, but the Sparks got outscored 47-35 in the second half in losing their first playoff game of the year.

The Sparks are seeking their fourth WNBA title, their first since 2016.

RIP, COACH: Former Damien and Cantwell high school football coach Dick Larson died Sept. 2. He was 85.

The 1953 Cantwell graduate was one of the top quarterbacks in the state and received a scholarship from the University of Minnesota.

Larson later returned to Cantwell and was head coach for six seasons (1968-73). The Cardinals won the league (1970) and finished second three times.

Larson was coach at Damien 1975-’97, where his teams won two CIF titles (’77 and ’82). The field at Damien was named in his honor in 2010.

He also was the head coach at Mt. Carmel and Salesian high schools.

Larson reportedly won 227 games in 32 years of varsity coaching, including 174 at Damien. 

By Don Wanlass

Staff Writer