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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona football vs. No. 9 USC: Can the Wildcats knock off the reigning Heisman-led Trojans?

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Mason Kumet
Led by tight end Tanner McLachlan (84), the Arizona football team makes its way onto the field for the sold out home game against the University og Washington in Tucson on Saturday, Sept. 30. The Wildcats lost the game 24-31.

The Arizona football team has another daunting task ahead of them this week. The Wildcats face No. 9 USC and will be traveling on the road to Los Angeles on Saturday, Oct. 7. Arizona (3-2, 1-1 in Pac-12) held their own against the nation’s best offense in the University of Washington, despite falling short 31-24 to the Huskies. Sophomore quarterback Noah Fifita made his first career start for Arizona and showed incredible promise as the primary signal-caller. Arizona continues Pac-12 play this weekend against USC (5-0, 3-0 in Pac-12) at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

History

Looking at the historical context between these two teams, the Wildcats find themselves trailing in the all-time series against the Trojans, with an unimpressive 8-37 record. Their search to secure a victory over USC has been marked by a decade-long drought, with the Wildcats’ last win coming on Oct. 27, 2012. This 10-game losing streak stands not only as the longest in their series but also as the Wildcats’ longest losing streak against any opponent on their schedule this year.

Arizona‘s last victory against USC dates back to Oct. 27, 2012, when the Matt Scott-led Wildcats clinched a thrilling 39-36 victory in Tucson. The Wildcats’ last win against the Trojans on USC’s home turf in Los Angeles came even earlier, with a memorable 21-17 win led by Nick Foles on Dec. 5, 2009. However, such victories have been few and far between, with just those two wins in the last 22 years, resulting in a tragic 2-20 record against the Trojans during that period.

Conversely, the Trojans have asserted their dominance in recent years, boasting a 10-game winning streak in this series. Notably, Arizona‘s longest winning streak against USC occurred with back-to-back victories in 1990 and 91, and then again in 1999 and 2000, underlining the Trojans’ historical prowess.

In the most recent clash between these two teams in 2022, the Trojans emerged victorious with a final score of 45-37 at Arizona Stadium. This matchup showcased the exceptional talent of USC‘s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams, who delivered a stellar performance, despite missing several key players on the offensive side of the ball. Williams demonstrated his special abilities by going 31-for-45, amassing a then-career-high 411 passing yards and an impressive five passing touchdowns. This standout performance further highlights USC‘s potent offense with Willams at the helm and solidified the Trojans’ continued success in their series against Arizona.

USC’s season up to this point  

USC boasts one of the most formidable offenses in the nation, with the reigning Heisman winner leading the charge. In his second season as the Trojans’ primary signal caller, Williams has delivered astounding statistics thus far. He’s thrown for 21 touchdowns, topping the nation in that category, while only surrendering a single interception in five games played. Williams has amassed 1,603 total passing yards, ranking him among the top six quarterbacks in the country. His exceptional performance extends to other areas as well; he currently sits at the number one spot in the nation for quarterback rating (217.7) and yards per pass attempt (11.37), showcasing his undeniable impact on USC‘s offense.

The Trojan offense as a whole stands atop national rankings, claiming the number one spot in scoring offense with an impressive 53.6 points per game. Additionally, they rank second in team passing efficiency (204.7), third in total offense per game (555.0) and fourth in passing offense per game (382.4). This offensive prowess is further exemplified by the dynamic duo of wide receivers Tahj Washington and Brenden Rice. Washington leads the Trojans in both receptions (18) and receiving yards (395), while Rice follows closely with 17 receptions and 338 yards. Rice is the team leader in touchdowns with seven, a feat that ties him for second nationally in receiving touchdowns. USC’s offensive weaponry also includes the electrifying Zachariah Branch, known for his remarkable punt and kickoff returns, as well as the fierce running back Marshawn Lloyd, who adds another dimension to their offensive arsenal.

As Arizona prepares to face USC, it’s evident that these two programs have many connections to one another. Notably, USC‘s Dorian Singer, Christian Roland-Wallace and Kyon Barrs were all part of the Arizona roster before transferring to USC last offseason. This intertwining of personnel and history between the two schools adds an intriguing layer to their upcoming matchup. 

Wildcats to watch

With Jayden de Laura sidelined for another week due to injury, Fifita will be making his second career start. In his debut, he went 27-39 for 232 yards, threw three touchdowns, one interception and rushed for 19 yards on 6 carries. This impressive performance came against one of the top teams in the country. Starting once again, he will need a similar performance if Arizona hopes to win against this explosive Trojans team.

However, Fifita has shown he can keep up with an elite offense. In his performance last week, despite a single interception, there was still an opportunity for Arizona to regain possession late in the game and have a chance at tying it and forcing overtime. In this contest, Fifita will need to prioritize ball security and continue playing his style of football.

In the receiving corps, keep a close eye on the trio of Tetairoa McMillan, Jacob Cowing and Montana Lemonious-Craig. McMillan and Cowing share a connection as former teammates of USC’s Singer. McMillan has emerged as a key playmaker for Arizona this season, ranking second on the team in receptions (27), while leading in receiving yards (366) and touchdowns (5). Cowing, on the other hand, tops the team in receptions (36) and is second in receiving yards (299) and touchdowns (4). Lemonious-Craig, who previously played with USC‘s Rice at the University of Colorado Boulder, has the opportunity to break out this game. Currently, he’s recorded 11 receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown, showing the potential for big plays. 

Arizona‘s defense faces another stern test this week, with USC’s potent offense on the horizon. The secondary unit, in particular, must rise to the occasion. The safety duo of Gunner Maldonado and Dalton Johnson will play a critical role in limiting USC’s ability to exploit big plays consistently. While shutting down this offense entirely is basically impossible, containing big-play opportunities and keeping everything in front of them will be vital in this week’s matchup.

Although Arizona may not have their desired win-loss record up to this point, they have displayed significant improvements in areas that were once weaknesses. Their performance this week against another top-10 team in the country is pivotal for their continued progress. To secure what would be one of the season’s biggest upsets in college football, Arizona will have to deliver its best performance of the season against the Trojans to pull off such a feat.


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