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USC vs. Arizona score, quick recap: Trojans avoid meltdown in the desert

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 29: Running back Aca'Cedric Ware #28 of the USC Trojans runs the football 26 yards to score a touchdown against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 29: Running back Aca'Cedric Ware #28 of the USC Trojans runs the football 26 yards to score a touchdown against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Saturday night’s USC vs. Arizona score shouldn’t have been close. Yet it was, with the Trojans eeking out a 24-20 win in Tucson.

USC vs. Arizona score:

The lowdown: This is the part of the recap where we normally jot down everything that happened in the football game. Like how USC jumped out to a 24-0 lead on the back of a strong running game —Aca’Cedric Ware ran for 173 yards— or how the defense allowed Arizona to run just one play across the 50-yard line in the first half, an untimed field goal attempt that was ultimately blocked.

But Saturday night’s 24-20 victory for the Trojans was one of the worst played and thoroughly unwatchable college football games in recent memory.

USC committed a staggering 18 penalties. Arizona had eight for 80 yards themselves. Khalil Tate played poorly, save for a couple of second half dimes. Both teams combined to go 9-of-32 on third downs and turn the ball over four times, despite forcing a combined three takeaways coming in.

Then there was the Trojans’ inability to kill off the game despite their huge lead, averaging 3.31 yards per play on their final six meaningful drives. They punted thrice, fumbled twice and got thrown for a loss on a 4th-and-2.

The takeaway: The Trojans thoroughly dominated Arizona. For the first time in a long, long time, it never felt like they were at risk of losing the football game, much less trailing at any point.

Look, USC did dominate Arizona. And they actually looked throughly in control for 40 minutes. If anything, it was a boring snoozer that was far from perfect, yet all kinds of effective because of their stranglehold on the game.

For a team two weeks removed from a 37-14 loss at Texas, and three weeks after a 17-3 defeat to Stanford, that’ll do on the road.

But when the Trojans put in an effort like they did in the game’s final quarter-plus, gift-wrapping Arizona a game, it wipes the shine off all of it.

How can you take away anything but how USC continues to insist on making more difficult for themselves? How can you take away anything but the fact the offense continues to not hold up their end of the bargain when the defense is shutting a team down? Or that the defense’s Achilles’ heel is yet again their propensity to be susceptible to big plays, hence all the more need to have the offense not faceplant against a defense ranked 93rd in total defense?

It’s coaching. It’s execution. It’s a lack of composure. It’s a lack of discipline. It’s nothing comforting and always frustrating.

That’s what USC football is. And that’s what USC football has been for years now, whether they’ve been coached by Clay Helton, Steve Sarkisian or Lane Kiffin.

The saving grace for Helton has been his team’s ability to pull out one-possession games, an area Sarkisian and Kiffin struggled. But that doesn’t excuse dominant performances melting away to yet another squeaker, when it was all too self-inflicted.

Player of the game: Senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware continued his strong play against Arizona, hitting the 100-yard mark for the third time in four years against the Wildcats. He finished the night with 173 yards on 21 carries, including a pair of nice touchdown runs from 69 and 26 yards out.

Stat of the game: USC committed 18 penalties for 169 yards, which somehow isn’t a school record (21 at Oregon in 1999). There were infractions for false starts, pass interferences and even an unsportsmanlike conduct on USC’s sideline for a coach obstructing an official during play.

Next on tap: It might be difficult to remember what they are, but the Trojans will now go on a bye week, meaning they won’t play a football game next weekend. USC will return to the Coliseum on October 13th to play Pac-12 South leader Colorado, a team they’ve never lost to.

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