How USC and Arizona match up in the Pac-12 South’s biggest game of the college football season

USC defensive backs Marvell Tell III (7) and Jack Jones and the Trojans' passing defense were up to the task last week against Harry N'Keal, center, and Arizona State. On Saturday, it's their run defense that figures to be tested.
(Ralph Freso / Associated Press)

No. 17 USC (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) vs. No. 22 Arizona (6-2, 4-1)

Saturday, 7:45 p.m., Coliseum, TV: ESPN. Radio: 710

Marquee matchup

Khalil Tate vs. USC run defense: Tate entered mid-game against Colorado in Week 6 and still ran for 327 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. The following games have been nearly as good: He has averaged 210 yards rushing and 186 yards passing over four games. He has completed 69% of his passes in that span and accounted for 3.5 touchdowns per game. He has earned the Pac-12 Conference’s offensive player of the week honors a record four consecutive weeks. USC’s defense had trouble with the one rushing quarterback it saw this season, Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush, who rushed for 106 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in a 49-14 Irish win.

Getting offensive

USC (475.8 ypg/33.7 ppg): Quarterback Sam Darnold had one of his best games of the season last week at Arizona State, passing for 266 yards and three touchdowns, and Ronald Jones II did too, rushing for 216 yards and two scores. Jones will be complemented this week by freshman Stephen Carr, who is back from a foot injury.


Arizona (522.9 ypg/45.0 ppg): Tate isn’t just a runner; he also has been an efficient passer to receivers such as Shun Brown, who has four touchdown receptions. Arizona has given up only five sacks. Running back J.J. Taylor averages 5.7 yards per rush.

Getting defensive

USC (394.7 ypg/25.8 ppg): USC recorded six sacks against Arizona State and gave up just 79 yards on the ground. USC still will be without starting cornerback Iman Marshall (knee sprain) and outside linebacker Porter Gustin (fractured toe.) Gustin’s primary backup, Christian Rector, suffered a broken hand two weeks ago, so inside linebacker Jordan Iosefa will slide over.

Arizona (447.8 ypg/30.2 ppg): Arizona has given up an average of 38 points during its four-game winning streak — 16 points more than in its first four games. Its secondary is especially vulnerable: The Wildcats give up 300 passing yards per game. Only two teams in the country are worse. But Arizona survives on turnovers. It has forced at least two in seven of eight games.

Something special

Ajene Harris was back returning punts against Arizona State after USC switched to Jack Jones for one game, and Harris had a season-long 21-yard return. Walk-on freshman kicker Chase McGrath made a career-long 51-yard field goal.


McGrath was outdone by Arizona’s freshman kicker, Lucas Havrisik, who made a 57-yard try in last week’s 58-37 win over Washington State and was named the Pac-12 Special Teams player of the week. Brown has two touchdowns on punt returns.

Of note

Saturday will be the 500th televised USC game. … Arizona has scored 45 or more points in a school-record four straight games.

Local ties

Arizona has 45 Californians on the roster, including starters Tate (Inglewood), Taylor (Corona), receiver Cedric Peterson (Moreno Valley), defensive tackle Luca Bruno (Oak Park), outside linebacker Kylan Wilborn (Northridge), linebacker Colin Schooler (Dana Point), safety Dane Cruikshank (Chino Hills), cornerback Lorenzo Burns (Murrieta) and Havrisik (Riverside).


Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand