USC Trojans (6-3, 3-3) at No. 18 Arizona Wildcats (7-2, 4-2)
Head Coach: Mike Stoops (Year 7: 40-41)
Location: Tucson, Arizona (Arizona Stadium)
Time: 5:00 PM PDT
Radio: KXSC (listen at kscr.org), 710AM
Spread: Arizona (-4.5)
USC travels to Tucson after squeaking out a win against Arizona State at the Coliseum. The Trojans didn’t play their most solid game of the year, but the defense held its ground, special teams came up big, and the ball bounced their way. Most importantly, they showed up mentally prepared despite the circumstances. Nine games into Lane Kiffin’s tenure, there aren’t any glaring weaknesses for a program that the NCAA has tried to severely cripple.
Offensively, the Trojans struggled to establish a rhythm and move the ball effectively against the Sun Devils. Matt Barkley threw for just 215 yards and two interceptions (only one was his fault), and the ground game sputtered through the first three quarters as neither Dillon Baxter, Allen Bradford, or Marc Tyler were able to break a big run. Earler this week, Barkley told the OC Register his goal is to not throw an interception this season. He has thrown four in the last two games and not looked sharp. For USC to beat Arizona, they must get a consistent passing game. Barkley’s struggles may be traced to the limited role Robert Woods played against the Sun Devils. Ailed by back pain, Woods, one of Barkley’s favorite targets, had a minimal impact. Woods is healthier this week, and that figures to boost the passing game. Then there is the running game. Lane Kiffin has yet to name a starter, but Marc Tyler seemed to earn the job with his strong fourth quarter last Saturday.
Stanford and USC have similar offenses, but the Trojans will likely not be able to score at will like the Cardinal did. After all, the Wildcats rank 10th nationally in scoring defense and have held opponents to single digits on four occasions. On the line, Arizona is solid with two senior defensive ends. Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed make it difficult for teams to run, leading opponents to gain 2.9 yards per carry. On the perimeter, the Wildcats have several capable defensive backs. Trevin Wade leads the unit and will likely match up with Ronald Johnson on Saturday. Furthermore, the Wildcats are opportunistic. They have a +4 turnover margin and use takeaways to give their potent offense more possessions.
Nick Foles returned from injury last week to play at Stanford, but he wasn’t overly effective. With another week of practice to test out his knee and get back in the groove of things, Foles figures to play much better than he did a week ago. Throughout the season, Foles has shown his pinpoint accuracy by completing 71.8% of his passes while throwing 10 touchdowns. His favorite target is Juron Criner, who averages 98 yards per game and is 116 away from a 1,000 yard season. Once again, the onus will be on USC’s secondary. Jawanza Starling, who missed most of the practices this week, probably won’t start. Marshall Jones will likely step in at safety and hope to give the Trojans a spark to a secondary that ranks last in the conference in pass yards allowed and touchdown passes allowed. The run isn’t that much of a concern. The Wildcats rank 57th nationally with 155 yards per game, and the Trojans have been stout against the run when they aren’t gassed. The defense played well against Arizona State, allowing just three touchdowns throughout the contest. Unfortunately, USC fans have yet to see back-to-back solid performances on that side of the ball. Could this be the week?
In the past, school’s on probation have struggled mightily while on probation. At 6-3, USC isn’t having the ideal season, but it is comparatively impressive. A win over a ranked opponent on the road would be another notch on the belt and build momentum for a flurry of a finish.
Stats of the week:
Final Score Prediction: USC 35 – Arizona 34. I have yet to pick against USC, and this week certainly feels like a week to do so. However, I can’t do it.