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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Arizona’s future brighter than scores suggest

    Mike RitterStaff writer
    Mike Ritter
    Staff writer

    The outcome of Saturday night’s 20-3 loss against No. 3 USC may not have been what Arizona fans would have preferred, but if the game foreshadowed things to come, you have to feel pretty good about Arizona’s future.

    Matt Leinart and Nick Lachey came out to Saturday’s matchup against USC, adding the usual Hollywood spotlight the Trojans carry out weekly, but the game they were probably expecting to see simply didn’t happen.

    Arizona’s record reads 2-2, but the recent loss, if anything, was a moral victory. An upset was not imminent, and those expecting to rush the field were dreaming.

    Last year’s 52-14 victory over then-No. 7 UCLA was the type of game that comes around once every blue moon. Taking nothing away from UCLA, they were no USC, and they probably won’t ever be.

    Although Arizona fans could take the role of the pessimist and say the Wildcats’ defense simply fell apart after the second half, USC coach Pete Carroll disagreed.

    “”It was a night of defense on both sides,”” he said. “”We haven’t really been in many games like this. It was really fun for me to get back in that kind of mode. It hasn’t been that way in a while.””

    Carroll doesn’t lack credibility, either. He has coached his team to consecutive national championships before losing in the championship game last season.

    Arizona did something that no team has been able to do against USC since Sept. 21, 2002, and that’s to limit them to only 20 points. For a team that is coming off two consecutive 3-8 seasons, that’s impressive, to say the least.

    In fact, had freshman Mike Thomas not fumbled that punt return late in the fourth quarter setting up the Trojans’ final touchdown, Arizona might have been the first team in 55 games to hold USC under 20 points. The last time USC was held under 20 points, Carroll was in his first year and the Trojans lost 10-6 to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl.

    “”When we matched up against (Arizona), they played really well on defense,”” Carroll said. “”They did a good job. It was a very tough, live football game.””

    It just so happened that USC prevailed when it counted most, and the results showed on the scoreboard. Once again, this is USC – the football program that has produced some of the NFL’s best players, especially recently.

    “”They’re really improved,”” Carroll said of the Wildcats. “”It’s a really nice football team. Just looking at them, they’ve done a great job of recruiting. We can see it in warmups. You can tell they’ve got a lot of good-looking players.

    “”They’ve got depth now. They’ve got some guys banged up, and some guys have answered the call and have come out and played well.””

    To show just how much Arizona has improved, take a look at recent history. Last year, the margin of victory for USC was about the same (42-21 at USC), but allowing 42 points to the powerhouse is something that teams do almost every week. In 2004, the 49-9 loss in Tucson was hardly a game worth watching, and 2003’s 45-0 loss was nothing out of the ordinary.

    Granted, those were the days when Leinart and Reggie Bush were tearing apart the Pacific 10 Conference, but nevertheless, the name on the front of the jersey is still the same, and USC is ranked No. 3 for a reason.

    “”I think they’ve improved a lot,”” said John David Booty, USC’s new starting quarterback. “”Even last year, they played us really tough as far as on the defensive side of the ball. We were able to get a lot of yards on them, but last year around the end of the first half it was hard coming by touchdowns.””

    Booty was simply being nice about last year. He didn’t start that game, so it’s tough to draw a comparison, but what he probably meant was that the final score this year did not accurately reflect how closely played the game really was.

    A three-point half for USC was their smallest total in five years. It would have been nice to see some more offense from the T’n’T connection, but USC is a superpower matched by few.

    “”Mike (Stoops is) doing a great job, and you can see it, there’s no question,”” Carroll said. “”This is a team that’s going to win a lot of games this year … and make some noise in the Pac-10.””

    Mike Ritter is a journalism junior, he can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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