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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Big test for Wildcats

    There’s no denying it.

    The stakes have never been higher for the Arizona football team under head coach Mike Stoops than they will be when the Wildcats (5-2, 3-1 Pacific 10 Conference) battle No. 6 USC (5-1, 3-1) on Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.

    With first place in the Pac-10 on the line, the atmosphere of a Homecoming game and an Arizona offense and defense that both seem to be hitting their respective strides, this clash has all the components of a classic.

    “”We always play well against these guys and we feel like we can match up with them pretty good. We have as many athletes as they do,”” said senior quarterback Willie Tuitama. “”We just need to make sure that we focus on playing our style of football and don’t think too much about how it’s USC.

    “”They are a good team, but if you start to doubt yourself in any way then your mind’s going to be distracted,”” he added. “”You’re not going to be focused on your goal.””

    Arizona’s goal is to become bowl eligible for the second time in Stoops’ tenure and take a stranglehold on the Pac-10 race into their bye week before a game at Washington State.

    A win over the Trojans would prove that this year’s Wildcats aren’t a fluke and will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. But all of that hinges on an Arizona win.

    “”You just focus on doing the things that you’ve been coached to do all week,”” Tuitama said. “”Doing all the small things right and playing for the guy next to you, and that’s what it comes down to.””

    It won’t be an easy task, however, as USC boasts the No. 12 offense and No. 2 defense in the nation. USC has flat-out dominated opponents with the lone exception being the 27-21 loss to Oregon State. USC sleepwalked through the first half and couldn’t recover, but offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes doesn’t anticipate a similar game this week.

    “”We’ve got to just go out and play our game and execute and make plays when they give us opportunities to and that’s going to be critical for us,”” Dykes said. “”They’re a tough team to have a 20-play drive against, so we’ve got to do a good job of taking what they give us and executing our plays.””

    But Arizona has a knack for coming up with big plays at home, especially during Homecoming weekend. Then-No.7 and undefeated UCLA got walloped 52-14 by Arizona in 2005 and the very next year the Wildcats sent then-No. 8 California back to Berkeley with a 24-20 loss.

    “”We have great fan support when our fans come out and the whole stadium is red and everyone is getting hyped, getting loud,”” Tuitama said. “”That’s definitely a good feeling when we come out onto the field and see that, and when our defense is out on the field and making noise, it’s like a 12th man in a way.””

    That 12th man could provide a huge boost for a highly ranked – No. 19 in total defense and No. 6 pass defense – but relatively untested Wildcat defense. The young defense will need to minimize mental lapses and come up with some turnovers to end up on the better side of the encounter against the nation’s 22nd ranked rushing attack and 16th-best passing game.

    “”I think the best thing they do is have balance in their offense,”” Stoops said. “”Anytime you have that kind of balance with that kind of skill, they present some tough matchups across the board.

    “”We’re gonna have to be able to get some pressure on the quarterback, we’re gonna have to cover their guys and make them pull the ball down, try to disrupt a little bit of their tempo,”” Stoops added.

    Even if the game looks like a mismatch on paper, the 15-point favorites should expect a fight to the finish, because the Wildcats won’t be satisfied simply with a competitive loss.

    “”I don’t want to think about that really,”” Tuitama said. “”I mean, we’re playing to get a win. That’s our goal. We want to be at the top of the Pac, and to do that we have to take care of business on Saturday.””

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