USC Sports

USC’s game at Arizona could again be a turning point for Trojans

Steve Sarkisian
USC Coach Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans face a key Pac-12 Conference South game at No. 10-ranked Arizona on Saturday.
(Winslow Townson / Getty Images)

One last thing about USC and Hail Mary passes …

The enduring image from the Trojans’ 2012 visit to Arizona Stadium was exhausted receiver Marqise Lee’s anguished reaction after he leapt for a failed Hail Mary and then crumpled to the ground in defeat.

The play ended a game that proved a turning point for the Trojans.

USC, ranked No. 1 before the season, lost five of its final six games and finished 7-6.


“That last time I was there wasn’t too good,” senior tight end Randall Telfer said when asked about the Trojans’ game at 10th-ranked Arizona on Saturday. “So I’m looking forward to getting back there and seeing what my team can do.”

The Trojans are eager to put behind last week’s game-ending Hail Mary debacle that punctuated a 38-34 loss to Arizona State at the Coliseum.

Saturday’s game again has possible turning-point implications for USC: A victory would keep the 3-2 Trojans in contention for the Pac-12 South title.

A defeat might send them reeling — as it did two years ago after a 39-36 loss — and put even more pressure on first-year Coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff.


“With the preparation that we have been putting into it all week, we should be good,” defensive lineman Leonard Williams said.

Much has changed since USC played here two years ago.

In 2012, USC was the No. 10-ranked team and Arizona was in transition under first-year Coach Rich Rodriguez. Now, the Wildcats are in the top 10 and the Trojans are trying to find their way under Sarkisian.

Arizona leapt in the rankings after going on the road last week and upsetting then-No. 2 Oregon to remain unbeaten. A victory over the Trojans would improve the Wildcats’ record to 6-0.

Rodriguez said this week that he expected USC players to be “refocused” after their defeat by Arizona State.

Much of the attention Saturday will be on USC’s defense.

The Trojans did not give up a touchdown pass in their first four games. They surrendered a school-record five against Arizona State, three in the final four minutes.

“You learn from it,” said defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox when asked whether it was difficult to forget that ending. “You don’t dwell on it.”


USC, which gave up 510 yards passing against Arizona State, spent the week preparing for Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon and a read-option offense that features running backs Nick Wilson and Terris Jones-Grigsby and a deep corps of physical receivers.

Solomon passed for 520 yards in a 49-45 victory over California on Sept. 20, including a 47-yard Hail Mary to receiver Austin Hill as time expired.

“They’re going to get challenged,” Sarkisian said of the Trojans’ secondary.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler and the Trojans will go against the Wildcats’ 3-3-5 defense.

The Trojans are averaging 33 points a game, but Kessler said the offense must be more productive.

“We need to put some more touchdowns on the board,” Kessler said, adding, “In this conference, when teams are scoring 60, you need to put up more.”

Telfer said the Trojans learned from last week’s experience against Arizona State and would apply the lesson against the Wildcats.

“We’re going to put a lot of emphasis on finishing the game,” he said. “Finishing to the very last second.”


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