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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Wildcats showed up to play against USC despite loss

Rebecca Noble

USC running back Justin Davis (22) evades safety Will Parks (11) and linebacker Jake Matthews (47) at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 7. Davis burned the Wildcats’ defense for 85 yards and two touchdowns in Arizona’s 38-30 loss.

After so many disappointing weeks for Arizona, with its most recent coming as a 49-3 blowout loss to Washington, the Wildcats were not expected to show anything different on the road against a resurgent USC team.

Then the seemingly unheard of happened: the Wildcats showed up to play.

Arizona came out firing against USC, leading 14-3 in the first quarter and looking sharp, even on defense.

The Wildcats were able to force some stops on defense when they trailed 24-20 late in the second half. Casey Skowron kicked a 44-yard field goal and, all of a sudden, Arizona was down by one point and still in the game late in a contest.

However, Arizona couldn’t finish the job, and they only have themselves to blame.

“We battled. We didn’t execute when we needed to. [I’m] not happy,” said Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Arizona looked really good on both sides of the ball at the beginning of the game. It was the best defensive start the team has had in all of Pac-12 Conference play and its best game since Oregon State.

Players like Jake Matthews, Tellas Jones and Anthony Lopez were finally creating the quarterback pressure the Wildcats have lacked all season—and this was against Cody Kessler. Where was this against the inexperienced likes of Jake Browning and Luke Falk?

However, as we have seen all season, the Wildcats failed to wrap up their tackles. As the game wore on and the defense kept getting to Kessler, they still could not finish plays, resulting in a couple of second-half drives staying alive for the Trojans.

“We’ve got to maintain it for four quarters,” Rodriguez said. “We can’t let the guy run 72 yards when we know he’s going to run it. We tackled like it was flag football or something.”

Ronald Jones II took the ball to the house on a 74-yard run, when both Lopez and Jamar Allah failed to bring him down. Plays like that ended up costing Arizona the game.

Quarterback Anu Solomon, who had not thrown a single interception until Washington, threw his third of the season when the Wildcats were driving up 14-3 in the first quarter. Aside from that blemish, Solomon still finished the game 31-46 with 352 yards and three touchdown passes.

That one mistake, however, caused the momentum to swing in the first half as Kessler threw a bomb to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 72-yard score on the ensuing Trojan drive.

“It was just poor execution by me,” Solomon said. “Josh [Kern] was in the seam, and I just threw it up.”

This momentum took the wind out of the Wildcats’ sails just as they were beginning to make a statement.

There is also this thing called play calling.

The Wildcats caught a break—something that hasn’t happened all season—in the form of a missed 34-yard field goal by USC kicker Alex Wood, while leading 20-17 late in the third quarter. Arizona was once again put into a position to bolster its lead and make another statement.

On a third down and on the USC 49, they ran a draw out of the shotgun to Orlando Bradford that lost a yard. Rodriguez decided to go for it on fourth down, and what did they run? The same exact play. USC stuffed the Wildcats at the line and proceeded to march back down the field to take a 24-20 lead.

The Wildcats, plain and simple, did not execute when it mattered most. For once, they looked like a resilient team and played like they had nothing to lose. Overall, it was a terrific game compared to what we’ve seen over the last month, and the Wildcats showed us what they are capable of. But the costly mistakes proved to be too much in the end.

The Wildcats will need to show more of this dedication and pride when they take on Utah and ASU with bowl eligibility on the line to end the season.

“We’ve just got to keep working,” Solomon said. “We’ve got two big games coming up and two opportunities to show what we really have.”

Follow Kyle Hansen on Twitter.

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