The Trojans face the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday, a team that USC has dealt with easily over the past decade. They have bested Zona nine out of 10 of the past contests, and five straight while in Tuscon. History should be in their favor, but should SC find themselves in a dogfight, they can look back to the 2001 team for inspiration. This Trojan team struggled in the 4th quarter all season–much like the 2012 team has done in the third quarter–and this game would be no different. But it would be a player striving for redemption from a previous gaffe that would lift the Trojans to victory.
USC was 1-3 in the Pac-10 and 2-5 overall on the season coming into this game, clearly not the formidable opponent they would develop into the following season. Arizona wasn’t much better, completely defeated in conference and having not won a conference game in over a year. With that kind of stage set before them, this contest was undoubtedly going to be long and ugly.
Neither team disappointed.
The teams went tit for tat early in the game with neither team really establishing a dominant foothold. Arizona got a bit of an early lead when Michael Jolivette dashed to the house for a 60-yard touchdown, but exactly three minutes later, USC CB Kevin Arbet jumped a screen route and ran it back 70 yards for a Trojan touchdown to tie it up 10-10.
That Arbet play would be the catalyst for USC to score 28 points in the second quarter and to extend their lead to 18 points over the Wildcats. Their 46,399 fans silent, their offense stunned into submission, and Pete Carroll’s defense storming the fort from all directions to prevent any Arizona action.
Carson Palmer–who did not play well at all, finishing the day completing 24 of 49 attempts for 248 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions–tossed a one-yard TD pass to TE Alex Holmes and a 17-yarder to Kori Dickerson. The Trojans also scored on the ground courtesy of Sunny Byrd, who ran it in from a yard out. Arizona did manage to get on the board after that onslaught of Trojan scores when K Sean Keel tacked on three points, kicking a 46-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
That FG cut the deficit to 31-13 and served as Arizona’s own catalyst, one that marked the beginning of their impending comeback.
In the third quarter, Wildcat Clarence Farmer ran 22 yards for a touchdown and QB Jason Johnson threw a 24-yard TD pass to Brandon Marshall. The Trojans were starting to feel the heat, sweating under the newfound pressure Arizona was putting on this game. K David Davis kicked a 47-yard field goal to give USC a 34-27 lead with 10:46 left in the competition. Like previously in the season, the Trojans started to fall apart in the 4th quarter and gave up a game-tying touchdown when Johnson ran the ball nine yards into the endzone.
The Zona fans had come back into it; they were just minutes away from their first conference win in over a year and they had USC backed against the ropes. USC’s defense that had at one point shined looked exhausted and on the verge of collapse.
But CB Kris Richard had a statement to make, a penance to pay for blowing an assignment and giving up a touchdown in embarrassing fashion. He eyed his receiver on the sideline, and something just clicked. Richard jumped a short route with impeccable timing, snagged the ball out of the air and raced the 58-yard road to redemption down the sidelines for the game-winning score.
Athleticism–and clearly a little bit of luck–carried the Trojans over the Wildcats, 41-34.
This was a game that, with the way the Trojans closed out the first half, should not have come down to Richard’s play. But then-head coach Pete Carroll turned the almost-implosion into a positive, telling the LATimes, “We needed a game like this, we needed a big win like this so our players know what it feels like to win and can continue to win in close situations.”
This year’s Trojans can learn a thing or two from that, as in the only really close game they had this season, they fell just short of the Stanford Cardinal. This Arizona team under Rich Rodriguez is much better than the 2001 squad and they surely want to further derail the Trojans’ season. But if USC can play its game, and make the big defense plays when it needs to like the squad did 11 years ago, this team could dodge another bullet on the road in Tuscon.