We’re a day away from USC vs. Arizona, in what could be a stylistic precursor to next week’s battle between the Trojans hosting of the Oregon Ducks. To get ready for the Wildcats, we sat down with Matt Schmidt of the Zona Zealots for some good ol’ fashion Q&A.
Reign of Troy: Despite their 1-3 conference record, what makes this Zona team dangerous?
Matt Schmidt: What most people don’t realize is that Arizona was literally two plays away from being 6-1 heading into tomorrow’s game. Arizona lost by only six points to Stanford on the road in overtime and only 3 points to a very good Oregon State team. Oregon State and Stanford have phenomenal defenses, but Zona put up an average of 41.5 points against those two squads. Add to the fact Arizona’s schedule was front-loaded with difficulty (Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State) and Arizona’s record suddenly looks a little deceiving.
Reign of Troy: Why are the Trojans a tough opponent for the Wildcats?
Matt Schmidt: Needless to say, the Trojans are loaded with talent and can hit you from all angles offensively. Unlike many college teams that are transitioning to a no-huddle, read-option, spread style offense, USC is sticking to the more traditional pro-style. Arizona’s 3-3-5 defense–which is inexperienced and paper-thin in depth–have struggled tremendously against teams (Oregon State, Stanford) that go this way offensively. If USC can push the Arizona defense around, this could be a high scoring game.
Reign of Troy: What weapons does Arizona possess that can further derail USC’s season?
Matt Schmidt: Arizona ranks 5th nationally in passing, 35th in rushing and 20th in points for. Their offense has succeeded in making really good defenses look silly, thanks in part to senior quarterback Matt Scott’s excellent play this year and sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey’s arsenal of talent. Arizona’s losses to Oregon State and Stanford did not come because Arizona’s offense couldn’t put up enough points, but because our defense gave up way too many.
Reign of Troy: What is your take on Rich Rodriguez through 7 games?
Matt Schmidt: He’s excellent. No one in Arizona expected us to be in the position we are in this year, and many predicted we’d only win as many games as we’ve already won. Being in the position to potentially go to a bowl game, and having enough of a chance to upset USC that people will actually show up tomorrow, far exceeds what any realistic fan predicted before the season started. We are in the position we are in because of his coaching and ability to put talent where it belongs.
Reign of Troy: Arizona’s pass defense has struggled this season; what do they need to do to contain USC’s passing attack?
Matt Schmidt: Exactly that–contain it, but don’t let it fly by. The Wildcats have gotten in trouble in their losses because they have allowed receivers to get behind them for the big play. However, a big part of this is due to Arizona’s inability to put enough pressure on the quarterback. The entire defense will have to work together and make the Trojans earn every score by going the entire length of the field bit by bit rather than chunk by chunk.
Reign of Troy: The Wildcats have given up 22 turnovers this season while the Trojans have forced that same amount. Are you worries that turnovers could determine the outcome of this game?
Matt Schmidt: If Arizona wants to win this game, they will have to win the turnover battle, plain and simple. As thin as our defense is, we cannot afford to give USC any more opportunities with the ball than they will already have.
Reign of Troy: How hostile is Arizona’s Stadium?
Matt Schmidt: Arizona has the biggest student section (Zona Zoo) in the Pac-12 and Tucson shows up for big games. Add to the fact that this is a day game in what is currently amazing weather and there is no other place for people to be tomorrow.
Reign of Troy: What is your take on many considering this Zona squad “Oregon-lite?”
Matt Schmidt: It’s not far from the truth, except that Matt Scott has a great arm with good receivers, so think of–at least for now–Arizona being the pass happy version of Oregon’s offense. What a lot of people don’t know is that Arizona was only down 13-0 against Oregon at halftime and failed to convert in the red zone six different times. It is without a doubt that Oregon is far ahead of Arizona, but it may not be too long before Arizona is considered the Oregon of the South.
Reign of Troy: What are 3 things Arizona needs to do to win this game?
Matt Schmidt: 1. Put at least some kind of what might be considered “pressure” on Matt Barkley
2. Eliminate the “big play.”
3. Win the turnover battle