USC vs. University of Arizona Match Up

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This week, the USC Trojans will face the University of Arizona Wildcats in a game that will go a long way in deciding how each team’s season goes from here.

Matt Barkley needs to have a big day against Arizona this Saturday

The Trojans are rebounding from a tough road loss in Tempe last week at the hands of the ASU Sun Devils, and the Wildcats have had a very rough start of the season.

They are 1-4, having had to face #9 Oklahoma State, #6 Stanford, and #10 Oregon in the past three games. Coming into the Coliseum will be no easy feat either; count on the Trojans to look to put the hurting on the Wildcats to avenge their poor performance last week. Though USC comes into this game a 14-point favorite, the game really could go either way.

It shouldn’t, but it could.

The Wildcats have a stellar quarterback in Nick Foles, and though their record doesn’t show it, he is the best QB the Trojans will face this far into the season. He has yet to throw a single pick in four games, has thrown for 10 touchdowns and has completed 70-percent of his passes.

Though it can obviously be argued that none of that matters because they haven’t been winning, it should be considered that the teams they have faced feature stronger secondaries than USC, so it is likely that Foles will see more success this week.

Foles is going to look to his favorite target, wide receiver Juron Criner to light up the scoreboard in U of A’s favor. He’s averaging 14 yards per reception, but has only made it to the endzone twice.

Criner is a legitimate deep threat, but lacks the route running ability to hurt the Trojans when the Wildcats get into the redzone; however he is good enough on the deep ball to keep the Trojans from being able to take men out of coverage to blitz Nick Foles effectively. It will be critical for USC’s success that they find a way to contain Criner, and keep Foles from completing long passes.

The Trojans struggled last week to handle Brock Osweiler and his passing attack, so it is reasonable to assume they might struggle this week. However, things working in the Trojans favor that, if exploited fully, will keep this game outside of the reach of the Wildcats.

First, the Wildcats have five new guys on their offensive line, meaning that they are undoubtedly inexperienced. This has clearly hurt Foles’ ability to get in his groove this season, as he has often been forced out of the pocket, and has been sacked 12 times.

The USC defensive line, on the other hand, is the best in the conference.  They’ve got plenty of experience, coupled with freakish athleticism, and are looking for that breakout game that will really put them on the map.

This very easily could be that game.

Trojan linebacker Chris Galippo

Last week, ASU was effectively able to completely eliminate USC’s pass rush, but it is doubtful that Arizona will be able to do the same. If they cannot, Foles will find himself very well acquainted with the grass in the Coliseum.

Furthermore, USC’s secondary—though by no means have they been dominant—has made significant strides since last season. Though they have made few big plays on the ball, they haven’t given up any big plays, either. Through four games, they’ve yet to surrender a single pass play over 20 yards.

Considering that there were multiple games last season that were lost because of giving up back to back 20-plus yard plays, this is a comforting fact for Trojan fans. This secondary has been the achilles’ heel of the Trojans for the last two years, and if they can limit big plays—or eliminate them entirely—they will be able to have the upper hand over Criner and Foles, severely limiting the Wildcat offense.

For USC to win this game, they will absolutely have to establish a running game. There are no adjectives to describe just how disappointing the O-line has been this season, and little improvement has been seen over four games.

If they cannot get a running game going, then quarterback Matt Barkley will have to throw the ball more. If Barkley has to pass more against a team geared specifically to stop the pass, he will inevitably continue to telegraph his passes and turn the ball over and become more likely to get hit, increasing the potential for injuries.

It is clear that the coaching staff wants to avoid this situation, so the only solution for the O-line is to get it together. Currently, USC wide receiver Robert Woods accounts for 44% of Barkley’s passing yards, and 40% of the touchdowns. That kind of an unbalanced offense can only go on for so long before it is exploited and shut down by better opponents. The Trojan offense should look to even things out this week so that they can continue that habit coming off the bye.

The Trojans also need to stop making careless errors in the redzone, and to actually put points on the board when they have the opportunity. Converting just one of nine times in 3rd down situations is unacceptable for any team, let alone USC. If the Trojans fail to convert this week, the game will undoubtedly be closer than it should be.

Ultimately, the fans should look for a leader to emerge under the lights of the Coliseum. The biggest difference between the Trojans and the Sun Devils last week was the presence of Vontaze Burfict. Burfict’s playmaking ability was amazing, but his impact was felt even when he wasn’t on the field, due to the fact that he united a roster of 70 men for one cause. The Trojans don’t have that. They’ve got a face in Matt Barkley, but until that vocal leader emerges the team will continue to underachieve and games will continue to be a lot close than they should be.

From here on out, it doesn’t get any easier for USC: After the bye week, they face a series of mobile quarterbacks with guns for throwing arms in Cal, Notre Dame, and Stanford in that order. Not only that but those teams will, without question, try to shut down Robert Woods in every situation, so USC needs to figure out another way to get points on the board.

Kick-off will be an early one this week, set for 12:30 p.m. I predict that the score will be 35-28 in favor of USC, in another classic Coliseum shootout. There is no doubt that the Trojans are hungry to win so they can be 4-1 going into the bye, and a hard week’s worth of practice supports that.

Everyone knows at this point that USC features a stockpile of offensive firepower. They know that the USC D-line is mean and nasty, and eager to get after any and all quarterbacks. And they know that T.J. McDonald and Nickell “Zero Tolerance Policy” Robey are looking to hit ‘em where it hurts.

Its about time that these Trojans prove that they are who we think they are.

Game on.