Preview: USC at Arizona
USC embarks on its final road trip away from Los Angeles, where it will meet Arizona in Tucson. The Trojans arrive as winners of four straight, and will attempt to win their fifth consecutive game for the first time since 2008. The Wildcats have been hot and cold under first year coach Rich Rodriguez, winning the first three games on the slate, before following with a three game slide. The skid ended with a rout of Washington last week, and the Cats seek a second in a row to remain in the race for the Pac 12 South.
Arizona Wildcats (4-3)
National Rank: none
Last week: Arizona 52, Washington 17
Every Rodriguez offense bears a semblance to past programs. He may not have Denard Robinson in the desert, but possesses a better passer in Matt Scott. In just his first year as a starter, Scott is the conference leader in pass efficiency (374.29), which is fourth-best in the nation. The senior has thrown for 2,355 yards, 17 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, while connecting on 64 percent of his passes.
Scott is supported by the legs of Ka’Deem Carey, who ranks fourth in Pac 12 in rushing, at an average of 120.29 yards per game. Austin Hill represents the team’s biggest receiving threat, leading the team in receiving touchdowns (7), receptions per game (6.29), and entering the week with 44 catches that brings him to a tie for the team lead.
The Arizona offensive line has surrendered 12 sacks through 7 games, which earns it a rank of fourth in conference.
Just as Michigan struggled defensively under Rich Rodriguez, Arizona does the same. The Wildcats rank 104th in the nation in total defense, allowing season opponents more than 30 points a game. Their statistical worst comes in pass defense, where the unit surrenders an average of 291.14 passing yards to opposing quarterbacks. Junior linebacker Jake Fischer leads the team in tackles, while a defensive back, Tra’Mayne Bondurant, leads the Cats in tackles for loss. The Wildcats totaled just three sacks in the first three games, but has gathered 7 in the last four, including a four sack performance against Washington a week ago.
USC Trojans (6-1)
National rank: 10 (AP), 8 (Coaches), 9 (BCS)
Last week: USC 50, Colorado 6
The Trojans had their most impressive outing since the season opener, with a drubbing of Colorado last week. Matt Barkley gave a repeat performance against the Buffaloes, throwing again for 6 touchdowns, before leaving the game in the third. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee combined for 14 catches, 235 yards, and 5 touchdowns, as USC overpowered the lesser opponent.
After dragging Colorado behind the woodshed, the Trojans elevated to fifth in the Pac 12 in scoring offense (34.86), and first in pass efficiency (183.30). Although the offense appeared to be near perfect, it still struggled in one particular area, which is third down efficiency. USC continued its season’s theme by converting just twice on six third down attempts. That number contributed to a season average of just 30 percent success rate on third down.
Lane Kiffin explained that it is many third-and-long situations that result in the inefficiency. But that is also self-inflicted, with penalties often moving the Trojans backwards. USC added another 10 penalties in its last outing, to cement itself as the most penalized team in America.
USC is tied at second in the nation with Boise State for forced turnovers. The Trojans have recorded 22 takeaways, with 17 coming by way of interceptions. The team’s 27 sacks are also good enough for a second-place tie, with USC now ranked 30th overall in total defense.
DT Leonard Williams, who was ejected for fighting last week, avoided a suspension and will play in Arizona.
Analysis: The two teams played in a shootout a year ago, and that is most expected on Saturday. USC can ill-afford to leave points on the field against an explosive Wildcat offense, and must also avoid the dangerous position of playing from behind. There’s a trap set in the Desert, with Oregon looming on the horizon. The Trojans must remain focused on the opponent across the line and not the circle on the calendar.
Arizona must minimize errors, while also taking full advantage of any Southern California miscues. The defense is going to give up points in bunches, which is the pattern for the season. But a fast paced offense can take advantage of Trojan depth issues, giving it an opportunity to respond to each USC score. It may take more than 40 points for the Wildcats to win this game, but they have the weapons to do it.
X-Factor- Left Tackle-Max Tuerk will make his first start on Saturday, in place of the injured Aundrey Walker. This will be Arizona’s primary point of attack, as it looks to take advantage of the inexperience at left tackle.
All-Time Series: USC leads 26-7
Streak: USC has won 2
Last Meeting: USC 48, Arizona 41 (Los Angeles)
- USC represents Arizona’s 4th ranked opponent in the last 5 games
- Arizona under Rich Rodriguez is 1-3 versus ranked opponents
- The Trojans have won 5 consecutive games in Tucson, with the Wildcats last winning on their home field in 1999.
- The last 5 contests between Arizona and USC were decided by 1 touchdown or less
- Arizona’s 31.1 first downs per game lead all FBS programs
- Max Tuerk will become the first true freshman left tackle to ever start a game at USC