A quick look at the standings reveals that USC is in third place in the Pac-10, the top conference in the country according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. Sure, the Trojans haven’t won every game so far this year, but their performance on a weekly basis has been admirable. Once again, USC showed up mentally and physically prepared for the game in Tucson. Ten games into his tenure, Lane Kiffin is 7-3, and the Trojans haven’t had any collapses. Two of their losses have come by a combined three points, one of which came at the hands of No. 6 Stanford in Palo Alto.
Tonight’s game may have been one of the more boring USC games I have seen, but it was refreshing. Early on, USC jumped out to a 14-0 lead and took advantage of Arizona’s miscues. After the defense bent but didn’t break, the Wildcats missed a field goal. With momentum on their side, the Trojans marched down the field methodically for the touchdown. Back on defense, Shareece Wright came off the edge to force a fumble. USC recovered and used the field position to go up by 14. Arizona rallied to make it 14-7, but USC put the kabash on the momentum by putting together another drive of their own. Throughout the game, USC controlled the tempo of the game by holding the ball for over 37 minutes.
If USC had helmet stickers, the offensive line deserves one. They opened up holes the entire game and allowed for a dominating rushing attack. Over 46 rushing attempts, the Trojans ran for 205 yards. Marc Tyler led the rushing attack by chipping in 31 carries for 160 yards. Dillon Baxter looked good as well. He only had 3 carries for 13 yards, but his 15 yard reception on a screen was beautiful in that he patiently waited for Tyron Smith to set up a block. Neither star receiver amassed a large yard total, but that was because Lane Kiffin seemed to shy away from an elaborate passing game given that Matt Barkley hadn’t been that sharp the last two weeks. Barkley managed the game well and made the necessary throws en route to 170 yards on 21 for 35 passing. The one interception to his name wasn’t his fault. The ball deflected off of Jordan Cameron’s helmet right after it went through his hands.
In certain situations that presented a problem, Lane Kiffin seemed to dial up the perfect play for each scenario. The final point total wasn’t impressive, but the dominating ball control was the story of the night. Arizona’s offense couldn’t score because they barely had the ball. Overall, the offense played a very clean game. The one turnover didn’t hurt since Arizona was forced to punt on the ensuing drive.
The defense played well tonight. It was frustrating to watch at times, though. Arizona killed USC with slant routes and streaks up the middle. It amazes me Mike Stoops didn’t have his offensive coordinator call that play every down. Furthermore, the Wildcats ruled the day on third down, converting 11 of 16. One positive was that Arizona was forced to throw the ball nearly every play because the run game was getting shut down. The Wildcats averaged 2.8 yards per carry (18 carries for 51 yards) as a team. In addition, the defense forced two fumbles, including a masterful strip of Nick Foles by Shareece Wright. Even before the play, it looked like USC knew exactly what play was coming. Arizona outgained USC by racking up 404 yards, but it was to no avail. USC’s system appears to be tailored to giving up yards but not points (though it has been very unsuccessful at times). Nevertheless, USC stood tall and held Arizona down to a very respectable level.
Finally, another shout out to John Baxter. The apparent field goal attempt turned Mitch Mustain pass for a fourth down conversion was brilliant. The special teams unit has had an appreciable impact in every USC win this year, and his addition as the coordinator has been invaluable.
Up until the final minute when Arizona came within 3, there wasn’t much angst. USC went to Tucson and took care of business in a very efficient manner. The Trojans now head to Oregon State, where they must continue to keep their focus against a team that just fell to Washington State. Kudos to Lane Kiffin for another solid victory.
Fight On! Beat the Beavers!