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Will It Be Rocky Night for Trojans?

They're favored in Chow's return to Provo, but mountain altitude, BYU defense may spell trouble.

September 18, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

PROVO, Utah — Norm Chow, USC's offensive coordinator, returned to LaVell Edwards Stadium on Friday for the first time since he left Brigham Young after the 1999 season.

It was only a walk-through for top-ranked USC, but it was a chance for Chow to get reacquainted with a place he helped put on the college football map during 27 years as a Cougar assistant coach.

Chow, who was passed over for the BYU head coaching job when Edwards retired, spent a season at North Carolina State before heading back west to USC in 2001.

Chow has downplayed his return to BYU -- "It was a good run, we had a lot of fun, but it was time to move on," he said this week -- but Trojan Coach Pete Carroll and USC's players are well aware of the story line that accompanies tonight's nonconference game between the Trojans (2-0) and the Cougars (1-1).

"It's obvious we kind of want to win for coach Chow," USC quarterback Matt Leinart said.

BYU is USC's second consecutive Mountain West Conference opponent. Last week, the defending national co-champion Trojans pounded Colorado State, 49-0, extending their winning streak to 11 games with a performance that solidified their standing atop the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.

USC is again a heavy favorite, but the Trojans learned last season at the Coliseum that BYU, playing an unorthodox 3-3-5 defense, can present a formidable challenge.

BYU trailed USC, 21-0, at the end of the first quarter before cutting the deficit to 21-18 in the fourth quarter. The Trojans scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes to clinch a 35-18 victory, but the Cougars limited USC to 71 yards rushing and 306 total yards, both season lows.

Leinart, making only his second start, threw three interceptions and acknowledged that the Cougars' scheme had confused the Trojans.

"I was still struggling with the offense and everything, and finding my rhythm," Leinart said this week. "It poses problems because guys are everywhere. They blitz a lot, they come from everywhere off edges."

Carroll and Chow said the Trojans had studied the Cougars during the off-season and would be better prepared tonight.

"That doesn't mean the results will be better, but we'd like to think we have a better grasp of it," Carroll said.

Carroll said he did not expect his team to become fatigued by Provo's 4,549-foot altitude. However, a sellout crowd of more than 64,000 could be a factor if the Trojans allow the Cougars to stay close.

USC offensive lineman Sam Baker said the Trojans' experience of playing before 91,000 at FedEx Field in the opener against Virginia Tech would help.

"Even the older guys said they had never played in a place that loud," said Baker, a redshirt freshman. "I think that gives us an advantage because we've been through it."

BYU was buoyed by its crowd in a 20-17 season-opening victory over Notre Dame, a win that grew in stature when Notre Dame rebounded to beat Michigan last Saturday.

Cougar players and coaches watched that game in their hotel rooms, then went out and lost at Stanford, 37-10. With quarterbacks John Beck and Matt Berry unavailable for most of the game because of injuries, BYU had seven turnovers and gave up 37 unanswered points.

"We lost our composure in the second half," BYU Coach Gary Crowton said.

Beck will start tonight for the Cougars, who are 24th nationally in passing offense at 275.5 yards a game and third-to-last in rushing at 31.5 yards a game.

BYU features the nation's seventh-best rushing defense, allowing only 41.5 yards a game, but the Cougars have not faced a running back tandem like the Trojans' LenDale White and Reggie Bush.

White rushed for 123 yards and three touchdowns against Colorado State. Bush, who caught three touchdown passes against Virginia Tech, rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown last week.

Crowton also must figure out a way to solve a USC defense that has allowed only 6.5 points a game, fifth-best in the nation.

"They're able to do a lot of things without blitzing the house," Crowton said.

USC defensive tackle Mike Patterson said the Trojans' game plan would be simple.

"We just need to keep getting better at the things we did last week," he said. "If we keep doing that, we'll be fine."

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