This rivalry has been dominated by USC, winning 22 of 30 games, but over the last seven years, these games have been close, with Arizona winning two and each contest being decided by a single score. But, with the Wildcats the sole unbeaten left in the PAC 12, can USC spring a rare upset of over No. 10 Arizona?
USC’s Offense vs. Arizona’s Defense
Since Steve Sarkisian took over USC, the Trojans have worked hard at establishing the run and, with the exception of that strange Boston College game, they’ve been successful. Javorius Allen has been a force, rushing for 576 yards and four TDs, and catching 19 passes and another score, while Justin Davis has come on strong over the last couple of games, gaining 149 yards and a TD in that span.
Something has to give here, as Arizona has done a solid job stuffing the run, allowing just 137 yards per game at a tough 3.5 yards per carry. They’ve been particularly tough on third down, giving up just three first downs on eight third and short attempts. Linebacker Scooby Wright III leads the fray with eight tackles for loss.
Cody Kessler has been accurate at quarterback this season for the Trojans, completing 69.5% of his passes for 1380 yards and 10 TDs without a solitary interception. Having the talented Nelson Agholor to throw to certainly does help, even if he’s been held mostly in check this season. Kessler has also been effective on third down, helping the Trojans control the clock.
The Arizona secondary has flashed some vulnerability at times this season, allowing in excess of 300 passing over the last three games. They have however been solid on third down, helped out by the tough running attack and pass rush that mustered 14 sacks, five by Wright. The defense has shown some ability to make plays in the pass protection. They’ve only picked off three passes – not a positive against Kessler – but they’ve broken up a respectable 13 passes.
Key Player: LB Scooby Wright – he’s the playmaker on defense, and he’ll need to be at top of his game against the powerful Trojans.
Arizona’s Offense Vs. USC’s Defense
After the massive veil of secrecy Rich Rodriguez cast over the quarterback position all through camp, RichRod unleashed Anu Solomon on the FBS. The sophomore has been something of a revelation, leading Arizona to a 5-0 record and passing for 1741 yards and 14 TDs, with four interceptions. More importantly, he’s been solid on the ground and defenses must account for him there too. Having one of the conference’s best receiving corps has been a boon, and he has developed some chemistry with Cayleb Jones, connecting on 32 passes for 525 yards and six TDs.
The Trojans’ secondary has been strong against the pass for most of the young season, even doing a number on prolific Oregon State. But they collapsed against Arizona State last week, giving up 510 yards and a soft Hail Mary TD on the last play. The Wildcats may not have a receiver of Jaelen Strong’s caliber, but they have to be licking their lips. The Trojan pass rush hasn’t been great, notching just eight sacks. The athletic secondary has been mostly impressive, breaking up 25 passes and picking off seven. Can they recover from last week’s letdown?
The Wildcats have an excellent running back of their own in Nick Wilson, who has had a couple of big games, and currently has 574 yards and six TDs. Terris Jones-Grigsby has missed some time, but has a couple of 100-yard games to his credit. Like the Trojans, Arizona will work to establish the run, hoping to make things easier for Solomon.
The Trojan defense had a nightmare against Tyler Murphy of Boston College, surrendering 452 yards yards on the ground. In the other four games this season, USC has allowed only 374 yards, including 89 over the last two weeks. Su’a Cravens has eight and a half tackles for loss. Can they shut down the Arizona backs, while keeping tabs on the athletic Solomon?
Key Player: DE Marcus Hardison – he’s been good so far, but needs to make some more plays in the backfield. Stuffing the Trojans needs to start up front.
USC – Andre Heidari is a reliable weapon, and is cool in the clutch. Punter Kris Albarado is similarly effective, and while the coverage unit has given up one big return, they generally back him up. The kick coverage has a allowed a score. Agholor has scored on a punt return, while Adoree’ Jackson has been an effective kick returner.
Arizona – Kicker Casey Skowron has missed a couple of short kicks this season, but can usually be counted on, and was a key player in the win over UTSA. Punter Drew Riggleman has a big leg, but the coverage is just okay. The kick coverage has been excellent, but the return game (kicks and punts) has been mediocre.
This is the highest Arizona has been ranked since 2010 (No.9), so they will be feeling some pressure. USC showed some resilience against the run the last couple of weeks after getting gashed by BC, but can they do the same against the pass? They have the talent in the secondary to get the job done. This time though, they face a double-edged sword in Arizona’s offense, which can be equally effective running and passing, so the Trojans need to pick their poison. I don’t think Arizona will go undefeated, and this could be a rare trap game in this series, with the Wildcats coming off a great win over Oregon. USC wins another close one.
*Section Photo credit to Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star; Featured Photo (above) credit to Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports