Trojans travel to take on unbeaten Arizona

first_imgThe desert will be rocking on Saturday night when the USC Trojans take on one of the hottest teams in the country, the Arizona Wildcats. The No. 10 Wildcats (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) made their season debut in the AP poll this week, riding a wave of momentum after a stunning upset of then-No. 2 Oregon last Thursday. The Trojans (3-2, 2-1) are in an entirely different position, having dropped out of the national rankings after a last-second loss to Arizona State. Amid questions about his and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s play-calling abilities, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian is confident in his team’s ability to compete going forward.Run for it · Redshirt junior running back Javorius “Buck” Allen leads the Pac-12 in rushing so far this season, with 576 yards in five games. – Tony Zhou | Daily Trojan“I’m always impressed by this team’s ability to respond to the things that we ask of them,” Sarkisian said. “They came right back to work and just battled and competed. We’ve made a huge point of emphasis this week on winning our one-on-one battles. The focus on the attention to details was tremendous.”The Wildcats have seemingly emerged from out of nowhere to become the Pac-12’s highest-ranked team. After an undefeated — yet somewhat unimpressive — nonconference slate, the team has turned the college football world upside down in its first two Pac-12 games. First came an improbable last-second Hail Mary from quarterback Anu Solomon to wideout Austin Hill to beat California late last month, a sour reminder for Trojan fans of the two teams’ dichotomous seasons. Then came the upset of Oregon two weeks later, sealed with a strip-sack from linebacker Scooby Wright.The Wildcats’ potent offense has been responsible for much of this success, with the redshirt freshman Solomon leading the way. The Honolulu native has quietly grown into one of the conference’s best at his position, averaging 348.2 yards per game through the air with 14 touchdowns against only four interceptions.“Anu’s a heck of a player,” Sarkisian said. “He can really throw it, which is different than they had in [last year’s quarterback] B.J. Denker. He’s much more of a thrower than a runner, but when he does run it, he’s effective.”On the ground, the Wildcats are powered by the two-headed monster of Nick Wilson and Terris Jones-Grigsby. Wilson is the Pac-12’s second-leading rusher with 574 yards, just two behind USC redshirt junior tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen. Jones-Grigsby has scored a touchdown in each of his three appearances this season, averaging 5.9 yards per carry along the way. The pair have effectively filled the void left by record-breaking running back Ka’Deem Carey, who raced to 138 yards against the Trojans last year on his way to a Pac-12-best 1885 yards.USC sophomore linebacker Su’a Cravens and the rest of the Trojans’ defensive unit will be tasked with stopping an athletic, multi-faceted attack. Cravens, who leads his team with 8.5 tackles for loss, has been impressed with what he has seen of the Wildcats on film.“They’re fast, they’re really fast,” Cravens said. “They don’t run as many plays as Arizona State does, but they get you tired, and when you’re tired you can’t really keep up with the tempo as such. Their plays rely on our mistakes, so those big yards that they gain, those points they put up are really from defenses getting tired and making mistakes, which is what they gameplan for.”Sarkisian admitted that given Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez’s complex offensive scheme, the Wildcats are a tough team to stop.“Arizona is very unique,” Sarkisian said. “They really call a run play and a pass play on every down, and the quarterback has a decision whether to hand it off or to throw it. I think Rich [Rodriguez] is a tremendous coach; he’s one of the pioneers of the spread offense and does a great job of executing it and then implementing it on gameday.”Allen and the USC offense will aim to keep the quick-striking Wildcats off the field, a goal that history says the team should be able to accomplish. The Trojans kept the ball for 37:18 of last Saturday’s loss to ASU, winning the time of possession battle by more than 14 minutes. Allen’s hard running, coupled with redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler’s efficiency, has given USC the time of possession edge in three of the team’s five games this season.The Trojans will line up against a talented, if inconsistent, Arizona defense. Wright, the co-Pac-12 leader with 58 tackles, anchors a front seven that put constant pressure on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, especially late in the game, while holding the Ducks to just 144 total rushing yards. Sarkisian knows that any unit that can limit the high-flying Oregon offense is no slouch.“I think what they did really good against Oregon last week was they won on first down,” Sarkisian said. “They put Oregon into some second-and-longs and then third-and-longs. I think that’ll be important for us here going into Tucson [Arizona] on Saturday night: first down efficiency on offense.”USC leads the all-time record against Arizona 29-8, but lost a 39-36 shootout on its last trip to Arizona Stadium in 2012. All-American junior defensive end Leonard Williams, a freshman on that team, remembers the game well.“Freshman year, we went up there and we lost,” Williams said. “We were 10th in the nation and they beat us. [But] we have a whole different coaching staff, new players, new weapons.”Interestingly, all of these two teams’ last seven meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. This Saturday’s duel kicks off at 7:30 p.m. PT.last_img

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