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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Terrific Trojans trump Wildcats’ comeback bid

    UA defensive end Brooks Reed hurls himself toward USC quarterback Mark Sanchez during a 17-10 Trojan win Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. The loss drops the Wildcats to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-10 Conference.
    UA defensive end Brooks Reed hurls himself toward USC quarterback Mark Sanchez during a 17-10 Trojan win Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. The loss drops the Wildcats to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-10 Conference.

    Arizona fought tooth and nail in a defensive battle against then-No. 6 USC, but in the end, the Wildcats were so close to success without actually tasting it a few too many times to pull the upset.

    Arizona couldn’t convert at critical junctures in the game, and the few mistakes the Wildcats (5-3, 3-2 Pacific 10 Conference) did make were exploited by the Trojans (6-1, 4-1) in a 17-10 USC win in front of a sellout crowd of 57,427 at Arizona Stadium in Saturday’s Homecoming game.

    “”They were just too good defensively and that was really the story tonight,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”We were in it all the way to the end though, but that’s just the way it goes.””

    USC’s defense – now No. 1 in total defense – limited Arizona to 188 offensive yards and held UA quarterback Willie Tuitama to 88 yards on 14-of-30 passing, along with one interception. Arizona had five chances in the second half to tie the game, but gained only 39 yards on those five possessions.

    “”We just couldn’t get into a rhythm.”” Tuitama said. “”It wasn’t the coverages or any of that kind of stuff. Their backers were good and they did good up front, so they were able to get pressure on us and kind of take us out of our game a little bit.””

    Arizona’s lone touchdown came just after halftime via a turnover. Defensive end Brooks Reed forced a fumble as he sacked USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and UA running back Nic Grigsby scored from five yards out just four plays later. But it was a play in the first half that summed up Arizona’s night.

    After freshman running back Keola Antolin was taken down at the USC 1-yard line, offensive lineman James Tretheway jumped on the pile and drew a personal foul penalty, which pushed the Wildcats back to the 16-yard line. They wound up kicking a field goal on the drive and spoiled their best chance to score points on their own.

    Following that drive, Arizona gained just 103 yards during the remaining 42:56 of the game and Arizona’s defense couldn’t hold on during critical third downs situations. The Trojans converted on all five of their third downs on their two touchdown drives after the game was tied at 3, and left the Wildcat defense with a hollow feeling despite their Herculean effort.

    “”Our defense, they played their butts off tonight,”” said senior wide receiver Mike Thomas. “”You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get our thing going on offense.””

    The Tretheway penalty that negated an almost certain touchdown wasn’t even Arizona’s most painful shortcoming of the night. The Wildcats faced a fourth-down and inches – the longest inch in history – at the UA 47-yard line, but Tuitama was stuffed for a loss with just 5:55 left in the game, and the winds were thoroughly taken from the Wildcats’ sails.

    Arizona was also unable to capitalize on a first-quarter interception by cornerback Marquis Hundley. The Wildcats actually lost 15 yards on the ensuing possession, which knocked them out of field goal range.

    They couldn’t turn a 52-yard second-quarter kickoff return by Thomas into any points either. Late in the fourth quarter, USC safety Kevin Ellison was the last person between Grigsby and the end zone, but Ellison did his job and saved a touchdown. In all, the Wildcats had four drives result in zero or negative yards and gained more than 10 yards on just five drives out of their 13 total offensive possessions.

    “”If we (made) one of those plays, then I think the game kind of could have turned around,”” Tuitama said. “”I think we needed a big play just to get everyone back into it just because that’s what we’ve done in the past.””

    But it was Arizona’s defense that made all of Arizona’s big plays. USC’s explosive offense – a group that scored 69 points last week against Washington State – was limited to its lowest point output of the season by the Wildcats and the Trojans turned the ball over twice. But USC made enough plays when it needed to and left Tucson in the driver’s seat of the Pac-10 Conference race.

    A perfect example was the game-winning score. USC sophomore running back Joe McKnight delivered a head-over-heels cut block on blitzing UA safety Nate Ness. The highlight-reel block gave Sanchez just enough time to find a wide-open Stanley Havili for a 30-yard touchdown.

    “”They gave us plenty of chances, and they just did a good job of playing sound. That’s an explosive offense,”” Tuitama said. “”Our defense goes out there today and holds them to 17, so you’ve got to give (our defense) credit. We just didn’t do our end of the deal tonight.””

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