USC vs Arizona: Previewing the Wildcat Offense

Sep 10, 2016; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats running back Nick Wilson (28) warms up before playing the Grambling State Tigers at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2016; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats running back Nick Wilson (28) warms up before playing the Grambling State Tigers at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports /

After consecutive wins for the first time this season, the challenge for USC vs Arizona will be to slow another spread attack with a mobile quarterback running the show.

Coming off two consecutive home wins against conference opponents Arizona State and Colorado, USC travels to Tucson this weekend to take on the Arizona Wildcats.

Rick Rodriguez’ Wildcats began the 2016 season full of optimism, led by a starting quarterback in Anu Solomon who had thrown for over 6,000 yards and 48 touchdowns in two years as a starter.

That optimism was short lived as Solomon suffered a knee injury and was forced to leave Arizona’s first game of the year, a 18-16 neutral site loss to BYU at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

As a result of Solomon’s injury, Rodriguez’ team turned to sophomore Brandon Dawkins, a 6-3 210-pound passer from Oxnard, California, to handle the quarterback duties in Solomon’s absence.

In five games as the starting quarterback, Dawkins completed 58.5% of his passes for 941 yards and five touchdowns before leaving last week’s 36-23 loss at Utah with a concussion.

Freshman Khalil Tate, a product of Gardena’s Junipero Serra High School who received a scholarship offer from USC, came in to lead the Arizona offense after Dawkins’ injury.

In limited action, Tate completed 10-of-17 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns against a stout Utah defense.

With Dawkins listed as questionable heading into Saturday’s, it is unclear who will line up under center for the Wildcats. What is clear is that whoever starts for co-offensive coordinators Calvin Magee and Rod Smith will be mobile, multi-talented, and a threat to the Trojan defense.

Through six games, Dawkins actually leads the team in rushing, with 63 carries for 484 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, Tate has accounted for a respectable 112 rushing yards on 25 carries over the team’s last two games.

Junior running back Nick Wilson, who has also been hit with the injury bug, leads his position group with 49 carries for 273 yards and three touchdowns despite missing last week’s game against Utah and a home match up with the Washington Huskies earlier in the season.

Wilson’s replacement, freshman J.J. Taylor, made the most of his opportunity with 168 yards and a touchdown on 18 rushing attempts in a September 17th victory over Hawaii, following that performance with another 97 yards and rushing score the next week against the Huskies. However, he broke his ankle in that contest and will not be available on Saturday.

Wilson is expected to play this weekend and will be relied upon heavily against the USC defense, if his sprained ankle holds up.

As one would expect based on the injuries Arizona has suffered at the quarterback position, the Wildcat’s passing game hasn’t lived up to expectations so far this season. As a team, Arizona ranks 76th in passing offense, averaging just 221.8 yards per game through the air.

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The Wildcats do have talent on the outside, led by sophomore Shun Brown and senior Trey Griffey, the son of Hall of Fame centerfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. Brown leads the team with 20 receptions and three receiving touchdowns, with Griffey and teammates Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips each notching 16 catches on the year. Josh Kern, a fifth-year senior, is the Wildcats starting tight end, but so far has only recorded two catches for 16 yards in 2016.

Stopping Wilson and Taylor and containing the Arizona quarterback, whoever that may be, will be critical for the USC defense this week. Expect Trojan defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, a graduate of the University of Arizona, to load the box and force Arizona to beat USC through the air.

Nick Wilson is a talented prospect with legitimate NFL aspirations, and his team is more talented than its 2-4 record might indicate. The Trojans need to force Arizona into passing situations, and not allow their opponents talented runners to break tackles and get the ball in space.

Temperatures are expected to reach the low 90’s by kickoff on Saturday, expect the Trojans to bring the heat and insist that the Wildcats beat them through the air.