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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Wildcats prove they can hang with nation’s best despite loss against USC

Rebecca Noble

Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones (1) makes a last minute touchdown despite USC linebacker Marquis Ware (2) in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s 38-30 loss to USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 7.

Arizona was limping into Saturday’s matchup against USC. Expectations for a desperate Arizona squad were low. Both teams sat at five wins and the team that wanted to be crowned bowl eligible the most was going to come out on top.

With Rich Rodriguez dealing with a slimming depth chart, questions with the quarterback position and the rumors swirling around that he’s leaving the program, the unexpected season for Arizona took another wild turn as the Wildcats competed with the Trojans despite falling 38-30.

This team needs the support from the fan base after a performance that was just enough to hang with USC, who at one point was favored to win the Pac-12 overall and compete for the college football playoff.

Sure USC head coach Steve Sarkisian dealt with alcoholism, but the talent and mystique lingered.

Even though the atmosphere of Saturday’s conference shootout felt as if it was a must win game for the Wildcats, Arizona showcased grit. A team that was constantly scrutinized for their horrific 3-3-5 style of defense and how it was a complete joke. Arizona’s defense gave up 10 touchdowns in the previous two games against Washington State and Washington.

“Supposed to be surprised when we battled? I’m not surprised. We battled when we should’ve and we didn’t execute,” Rodriguez said.

The issue that lied with the defense was pressuring the quarterback and creating pressure, which would lead to sacks. That’s where the issue is with the 3-3-5 defense, because a style like Arizona’s defense is creating plays in the secondary rather than putting pressure on the quarterback.

Saturday was a different story, but the pressure came from the linebacker Jake Matthews and safeties Tellas Jones and Anthony Lopez. Both Lopez and Jones left the Coliseum with a sack and gave the defense the ability to fly home with their heads held high.

“We played well for the most part of the game, but we didn’t execute on certain plays we knew were coming so we gotta’ do better on that,” Jones said.

Arizona contained USC quarterback Cody Kessler to 243-yard and two touchdowns, but just as Arizona appeared to have the Trojans right where they wanted them, USC running Ronal Jones II broke out with a 74-yard touchdown run to put the icing on the cake 31-23. Jones finished the evening with 173-yards and his lone crunch time touchdown.

Even though the defense is taking baby steps and progressing late in the season, the offense performed like the Arizona offense that fans are used to seeing. Anu Solomon threw for 352-yards and three touchdowns, but one interception made the difference between 14-10 and 21-3. According to Solomon, the Wildcats are prepared for the upcoming pair of games and are progressing to get out of the slump.

“We put our hearts into it. You know we don’t want to lose again and that’s all. We just want to get over this depression and this funk that we’re in but we just got to keep working,” Solomon said. “We got two games left and those are two games and two big opportunities to show what we really have.”

Now that Solomon found his identity and the defense finally playing with the hard edge that Rodriguez always thrived on, Arizona has an opportunity to finish out the season on a high note.

Tellas Jones showed no remorse that Arizona was going to make a bowl game after the regular season comes to a conclusion.

“I definitely think we’re gonna’ get to a bowl,” Jones said.

Arizona has two games to show that the football team is still relevant in not just the conference, but also the nation. Arizona has one more home game against Utah and Arizona State on the road after Saturday’s performance, the Wildcats appear to be ready.

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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