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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona’s defensive struggles highlight Wildcats’ focus

Tyler Baker

An Arizona defender misses a tackle against Washington State running back Jamal Morrow (25) at Arizona Stadium during the Wildcats’ 42-45 loss on Saturday, Oct. 24. Arizona ranks No. 11 in the Pac-12 for total defense, allowing 453.6 yards per game and a league-high 40 touchdowns.

Wildcats’ competition remains stiff

Arizona was dominated in every aspect of its 49-3 defeat to Washington, but head coach Rich Rodriguez insisted Tuesday that nothing has changed in the team’s demeanor, even after the blowout loss.

“Everybody wants to act like the sky is falling,” Rodriguez said after practice. “The psychology of the team—I’ve got to try to get a pulse on that. But the more you talk about it, the more they start thinking about it. Our guys are conscientious. It’s time to move on.”

Rodriguez understandably doesn’t want to relive much of the blowout loss. The Wildcats sputtered all Saturday night as they couldn’t get much going on offense, while the defense allowed Washington quarterback Jake Browning to pass four touchdowns.

What’s perhaps most troubling is that Arizona’s two quarterbacks, Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall, combined for three interceptions.

This weekend proves to be another big test for the Wildcats’ offense.

USC’s defense leads the Pac-12 Conference and ranks No. 6 nationally with a 1.25 turnover margin, meaning the Trojans force far more turnovers than they commit. Arizona, meanwhile, ranks No. 11 in the Pac-12 with a -0.44 margin.

The Trojans also lead the Pac-12 in limiting opponents to a 36.6 percent third down conversion rate.

“The biggest thing for us is that we’ve got to get first downs and get some momentum,” Rodriguez said. “We did that occasionally, but not enough to control the momentum of the last couple games.”

Arizona actually tops the conference with a 47 percent conversion rate on third down opportunities, but when it comes to getting scores in the red zone, the Wildcats have struggled mightily.

USC receiver undergoes hand surgery

The Wildcats could get a major break this weekend, as star USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was forced to undergo surgery for a broken right hand.

The sophomore suffered the injury in USC’s victory over California last weekend.

“It’s really a pain-tolerance thing,” USC interim head coach Clay Helton told local reporters Monday. “You’re talking about one of the toughest kids in my 21 years of experience that I’ve ever been around. He’s an absolute warrior and I know he’ll be back as soon as he can.”

However, USC may not want to risk playing Smith-Schuster in what is expected to be a Trojans rout. The Long Beach native is perhaps USC’s top offensive threat with a Pac-12 leading 956 receiving yards.

When asked about Smith-Schuster after Tuesday’s practice, Rodriguez said he was unaware of the injury.

“He’s a really good player but they’ve got about 85 five-stars, so they’ll have a good one if he can’t go,” Rodriguez said.

Indeed, USC has plenty of other weapons, including Adoree’ Jackson and Stephen Mitchell Jr. at wide-out and a handful of running backs who were all highly touted out of high school.

Kickoff for Arizona against USC is slated for 8:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be televised on ESPN.

Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.

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