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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats fail to overcome early deficit against USC

Wide+receiver+Devaughn+Cooper+%287%29+tries+to+catch+the+ball+in+the+end+zone+during+the+Arizona-USC+game+at+the+Arizona+Stadium+on+Saturday+September+29%2C+2018+in+Tucson%2C+Az.
Amy Bailey
Wide receiver Devaughn Cooper (7) tries to catch the ball in the end zone during the Arizona-USC game at the Arizona Stadium on Saturday September 29, 2018 in Tucson, Az.

Fireworks filled the sky as the Arizona Wildcats raced out of the tunnel ahead of Saturday night’s Pac-12 South showdown against the Southern California Trojans. 

Unfortunately, for football head coach Kevin Sumlin’s squad, pregame would be the only time worth celebrating this weekend. 

Arizona (2-3) fell to USC (3-2) 24-20 in what could be coined as one of the Wildcats’ weirdest performances of recent memory. To put it lightly, it was as ineffective of a game, offensively and defensively – until a surge in the fourth – as there has been in the early Sumlin era, yet Arizona found itself within striking distance with time running out.

“I thought USC did a nice job of challenging us,” Sumlin said during his postgame press conference.

          RELATED: WATCH: 3 keys to the Arizona vs USC football game

The Trojans did more than challenge the Wildcats, though. For a while, USC dominated Arizona.

Wildcat Jalen Harris (49) tackles USC player for a third down during the Arizona-USC game at the Arizona Stadium on Saturday September 29, 2018 in Tucson Ariz.
Wildcat Jalen Harris (49) tackles USC player for a third down during the Arizona-USC game at the Arizona Stadium on Saturday September 29, 2018 in Tucson Ariz.

Despite not capitalizing on a handful of scoring opportunities early in the game, USC found itself with a comfortable, 17-point halftime lead. 

The Trojans’ first-half offense comprised of a perfect balance of running and passing with freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels connecting on 11 of 16 passes for 156 yards. 

Thanks to a picturesque pocket, Daniels had plenty of time to navigate through his reads and expose the Wildcats’ struggling secondary. He completed several perfectly placed back-shoulder throws and would have blown the top off of this one had he not underthrown his receivers deep down the field on multiple occasions. 

As tough of sledding as the Wildcats experienced in the first half, defensive execution worsened immediately after emerging from the locker room. 

Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates’ unit succumbed to the Trojans’ ground game as the first half wound down. At the start of the third quarter, USC running back Aca’Cedric Ware added to his impressive showing by busting loose for a 69-yard touchdown scamper. 

The Trojans’ lead back initially found the end zone from 26 yards out on a fourth down conversion in the second quarter. 

As out of hand as this game could have gotten, Arizona salvaged its pride with 7:44 left in the third. Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate delivered a strike down his team’s sideline, connecting with receiver Stanley Berryhill III in the end zone for a 33-yard score. 

Tate would later connect with Cedric Peterson for another touchdown on a similar play in the fourth quarter, but by then USC was in clock-killing mode. 

Despite obtaining increased time of possession in the second half, Arizona’s offense mustered too little success over the course of the game to complete a late-game comeback – like they nearly did at the Coliseum last season. 

Although Tate appeared as healthy as he has been this year, his wheels still weren’t enough of a factor to keep the Trojans’ defense on edge.  

USC’s defenders bottled Tate up when he attempted to scramble and were more than ready for any type of designed quarterback runs. 

“I’m healthy enough to play,” Tate said when asked about his health level and recent ankle injury.

Khalil Tate runs to pass the ball and avoids getting tackled during the UA v USC game on Saturday Sep 29 at Arizona Stadium. USC beat UA 24-20.
Khalil Tate runs to pass the ball and avoids getting tackled during the UA v USC game on Saturday Sep 29 at Arizona Stadium. USC beat UA 24-20.

Adding to the Wildcats’ offensive woes was a questionable decision by Tate in the second quarter. 

While rolling out to his left, trying to avoid pressure, Tate made the error of floating a ball up and over the heads of the Trojans’ defenders. His pass didn’t have nearly enough mustard on it and resulted in an easy USC interception in Wildcat territory. 

“I don’t remember,” Tate said about how the play unfolded.

On a night like tonight, frustration and depleted confidence played as big of a factor as anything else. 

Arizona repeatedly punted the ball away, sending their already tired defensive unit back out onto the field. In turn, USC’s offense dominated time of possession and seized control of the game’s momentum. 

By the time Arizona’s defense buckled down and recovered a trio of fumbles – tripling their fumble recovery total in tonight’s game alone – it was too little, too late. 

“As a leader, blame it on me,” linebacker Colin Schooler said.

The Wildcats were blessed with a pair of Trojan penalties right before halftime, leading to one final untimed down at USC’s 20-yard line. 

A successful field goal attempt would have been a sign of life entering the second half, but Arizona simply couldn’t catch a break. 

The Trojans blocked the Wildcats’ kick with ease, sinking Arizona’s shot of getting on the board before heading to the locker room. 

In the fourth quarter, despite two seemingly game-changing plays – both pivotal forced fumbles – Arizona’s offense failed to take full advantage of their defense’s sudden urgency.  

          RELATED: Arizona trails USC 17-0 at halftime

USC halted the Wildcats near midfield, on what would realistically be Arizona’s final chance to alter the outcome of this game. 

Arizona did manage to punch it in from one yard out with 1:40 remaining, lessening the blow of an abysmal first three quarters, but that moment came on the brink of embarrassment. 

Prior to adding the game’s final score, Arizona was stuffed on seven plays within the Trojans’ five-yard line. The game’s final touch was a missed extra point that signaled the end of a scrambled comeback.  

“It’s not so much an opponent thing as it is us correcting us,” said Sumlin.

Tate and the offense will look to do just that next weekend against Cal. They’ll need to show up before the final quarter in order to avoid a similar fate as tonight.  


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