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USC struggles to hold back winless Arizona in 41-34 victory

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USC running back Darwin Barlow fights for extra yardage against Arizona cornerback Treydan Stukes.
USC running back Darwin Barlow fights for extra yardage against Arizona cornerback Treydan Stukes in the third quarter of the Trojans’ win Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC finally delivered a home win, extending Arizona’s losing streak to 20 games, but it was overshadowed by star receiver Drake London’s injury.

USC held off a late Arizona rally and delivered a homecoming win for a sparse, loyal crowd Saturday at the Coliseum.

But it was tough for the Trojans to celebrate after star receiver Drake London suffered an apparent serious ankle injury during the first half.

Drake London’s injury overshadows USC’s victory over Arizona

At the most desperate of junctures in a season swiftly slipping into ennui, USC’s freshman quarterback stood in the shadow of his own end zone, a half-empty Coliseum laid out before him. The last time Jaxson Dart had taken the field, six weeks earlier, his electric debut defibrillated USC’s fan base and injected hope into a team that just lost its coach.

That fervor suddenly returned along with USC’s freshman quarterback Saturday in the second quarter of what would become an unnecessarily narrow 41-34 win over Arizona. As his first series at home was announced over the loudspeaker, the Coliseum came to life. The student section chanted his name. And once Dart capped a 15-play, 96-yard touchdown drive, an entire stadium buzzed with the anticipation of what could be.

But by the end of the next drive, that fleeting sense of hope for the future had taken a hard left turn toward despair as Drake London, one of the nation’s best wideouts and the Trojans’ only consistent weapon, lay crumpled in a corner of the end zone, clutching his right ankle in pain.

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USC holds off Arizona to snap home losing streak

It took two quarterbacks and resurgent running game, but USC finally beat a conference opponent at home.

The Trojans held off Arizona 41-34 on Saturday, picking up their first home Pac-12 win and ending a three-game losing streak. USC (4-4, 3-3 Pac-12) has won nine in a row against Arizona while the Wildcats (0-8, 0-5 Pac-12) stretched their overall losing streak to 20.

With Jaxson Dart healthy, USC rotated quarterbacks. Dart came off the bench for 109 passing yards and two touchdowns on 12-for-18 passing. Kedon Slovis started and completed 14 of 18 passes for 109 yards, two touchdowns and one interception that was returned for a touchdown by Arizona.

The offense failed to score a touchdown in the second half, using two field goals to hold off the upset-minded Wildcats. USC was struggling with the loss of star receiver Drake London, who suffered a leg injury in the second quarter and didn’t return. The junior still led the Trojans with nine catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns.

Running back Keaontay Ingram stepped up in London’s absence and carried the offense in the second half. He finished with 25 carries, 179 rushing yards and one touchdown.

USC had five sacks, led by two from defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu.

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USC holds Arizona to field goal in red zone

USC forced Arizona to settle for another field goal, protecting a touchdown lead with less than two minutes remaining.

The Wildcats trail 41-34 with 1:26 remaining after a 40-yard field goal.

Arizona converted a third-and-10 during the 10-play, 52-yard scoring drive with a 37-yard pass from Will Plummer to Dorian Singer. The Wildcats drove to the USC 23-yard line, but Plummer threw incomplete on third-and-seven.

Arizona’s on-side kick attempt was recovered by USC.

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USC exhales (slightly) with 40-yard field goal

A 40-yard field goal from Alex Stadthaus made it a two-possession game again as USC leads 41-31 with 3:19 to go.

The kick is USC’s first scoring play since the 6:48 mark of the third quarter. USC still has yet to find the end zone in the second half.

With star receiver Drake London injured, Keoantay Ingram and the running game has stepped up. The Texas transfer started the drive off with a 55-yard rush and has 170 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries.

Ingram has three 100-yard rushing performances on the season, including last week’s 138-yard total against Notre Dame. He could be flirting with 300 yards if not for several long runs, including a 66-yard touchdown, getting called back for offensive penalties.

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Arizona adds field goal to make it one-possession game

USC is letting Arizona inch closer and closer.

The Wildcats tacked on a 25-yard field goal to make it 38-31 with 6:04 to go. Remember, this is a team that hasn’t won a game since 2019.

Arizona methodically moved down the field, never gaining more than 15 yards on a play during the 72-yard, 13-play march. And that long 15-yard gain came from a defensive pass interference call on USC.

Will Plummer is gaining some momentum in the run game, converting a second-and-10 near midfield by running up the middle for 13 yards. He already has a rushing touchdown today and is 17-of-27 passing for 211 yards.

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Arizona putting pressure on USC as Dart returns

USC was a three-touchdown favorite, but Arizona didn’t get the message.

The Wildcats cut the USC led to 10 with a 16-yard touchdown run from quarterback Will Plummer. Arizona now trails 38-28 with 12:50 remaining in the game. The play capped a nine-play, 60-yard drive for the Wildcats, who are trying to end a 19-game losing streak.

After scoring touchdowns on five of their first six drives, USC has gone interception, field goal and punt.

After the Arizona touchdown, Jaxson Dart came in at quarterback as USC tries to rekindle some spark on offense.

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Arizona driving as third quarter ends

Entering the fourth quarter, Arizona has second-and-four at USC’s 17-yard line.

The Wildcats trail 38-21.

USC is outgaining Arizona 428-335 with the Wildcats earning the majority of their yards through the air. Arizona quarterbacks Will Plummer and Jamarye Joiner have combined for 251 passing yards.

USC’s Kedon Slovis is 14-of-20 passing for 192 yards, two touchdowns and one interception that was returned for a touchdown by Arizona in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Jaxson Dart didn’t appear in the third quarter.

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USC settles for field goal after penalty negates touchdown run

USC will take three points, but the Trojans could have had seven.

After a holding penalty on Tahj Washington wiped off a 66-yard touchdown from Keaontay Ingram, USC settled for a 22-yard field goal from Alex Stadthaus to take a 38-21 leaad with 10:44 to go in the third.

USC has been called for five penalties for 60 yards.

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Anthony Pandy’s pick-six stuns Trojans

Kedon Slovis made his first big mistake of the game, throwing an interception to Arizona’s Anthony Pandy, who returned it untouched for a 37-yard pick-six.

The Wildcats trail 35-21 with 10:44 remaining in the third.

Slovis was carving up the Arizona defense in the first half and his effort was matched by backup Jaxson Dart, who came off the bench to much fanfare at the Coliseum. The interception is a mistake that could linger in the minds of fans who were already calling for Dart to take over starting duties.

Despite the miscus, Slovis returned to the field on the ensuing drive to lead the USC offense.

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Arizona misses field goal to start second half

Arizona kicker Lucas Havrisik missed a 51-yard field goal attempt on Arizona’s first drive of the second half, leaving USC ahead 35-14 with 11:25 to go in the third quarter. Havrisik pushed the attempt wide left after Drake London sacked quarterback Will Plummer on third down for a six-yard loss.

The Trojans get the ball back on their own 33-yard line.

The Wildcats had a trick play negated on the drive because of an ineligible man field on a double-pass play. It would have been a 10-yard completion from Jamarye Joiner to Stanley Berryhill III.

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Arizona starts second half on offense

We’re back for the second half and Arizona starts on offense.

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New quarterback, same result as USC leads at halftime

Jaxson Dart led two touchdown drives during his second-quarterback cameo and Kedon Slovis kept the momentum going after returning to the field.

The junior quarterback completed a 15-yard pass to Gary Bryant Jr. to put USC ahead 35-14 at halftime. The Trojans scored five touchdowns on six first-half drives, including two drives piloted by Dart.

At halftime, Slovis is 12-of-15 passing for 180 yards and two touchdowns while Dart is 11-of-15 for 97 yards and two touchdowns.

Running back Keaontay Ingram has 80 rushing yards on 16 carries with one touchdown. Receiver Drake London has a team-high nine catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns, but suffered what appeared to be a significant leg injury in the second quarter. Tahj Washington is USC’s second-leading receiver with five catches and 63 yards.

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Arizona offense thriving off deep passes

Arizona’s Will Plummer completed two passes for 59 yards in a 75-yard touchdown drive that brought some momentum back to the Wildcats sideline.

After a one-yard touchdown run from Michael Wiley, USC leads 28-14 approaching halftime.

Arizona is struggling to run the ball, but has found success on deep throws, capitalizing on USC’s secondary. Plummer found Tayvian Cunningham for 35 yards on the drive and Cunningham would have scored if Isaac Taylor-Stuart wouldn’t have ripped his helmet off. The face mask penalty saved a touchdown because the play is called dead if a ball carrier loses his helmet, but Arizona came back with a 24-yard pass from Plummer to Alex Lines two plays later that brought the Wildcats to the one-yard line.

Arizona has 28 rushing yards but 195 passing yards.

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Drake London hurt on touchdown catch

Drake London scored, but grabbing another touchdown is the least of USC’s concerns after the star receiver was taken off the field with an air cast on his right leg while riding on the back of the injury cart.

London caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Jaxson Dart to put USC up 28-7 with 4:16 to go int he second quarter, but a defender rolled up on the junior’s leg in the end zone. London immediately grabbed his leg in pain and nearby teammates signaled to the sideline for help. Trainers put a large black air cast that encased London’s leg up to his thigh. While the cart drove up the tunnel, London used his jersey to wipe tears from his eyes and flashed USC’s “fight on” signal to the crowd.

London is a leading Beletnikoff candidate, entering the game with 70 catches and 1,002 receiving yards, which ranked second in the country. He is on past to surpass former USC star Marqise Lee’s school records set in 2012. He had the most catches of any FBS player through seven games, and had nine more for 81 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday.

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Chris Steele, Isaiah Palo-Mao combine to force turnover

Isaiah Pola-Mao got burned on Arizona’s touchdown drive, but the safety made up for it by recovering a fumble to give USC the ball back near midfield.

Chris Steele punched the ball free from BJ Casteel’s grasp near the sideline and Pola-Mao jumped on it. The Trojans, who lead 21-7 midway through the second quarter, returned to the field with Jaxson Dart at quarterback for the second straight drive.

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Jaxson Dart’s return results in touchdown

Jaxson Dart is back in a big way.

The freshman quarterback came off the bench to lead a 96-yard touchdown drive, finding Drake London for a two-yard touchdown pass that put the Trojans up 21-7 with 7:59 to go in the second quarter.

Dart, who was out for five weeks because of a torn meniscus in his knee, was 6-of-10 passing on the drive for 52 yards.

Dart’s longest completion was 17 yards as he found Tahj Washington on the right side of the field and the receiver broke through a tackle for additional yards. Dart was looking for the Memphis transfer deep on the right side again on the next play, but overthrew Washington in the end zone. USC still benefitted from the play as Arizona’s Isaiah Rutherford was called for pass interference.

Dart nearly found Washington for a touchdown on first-and-10 from the Arizona 14-yard line, but the pass was tipped. Washington was open in the end zone.

Washington has two catches for 22 yards and London has a team-high 75 yards on eight receptions and one touchdown.

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Jaxson Dart has entered the chat

Backup quarterback Jaxson Dart is on the field for USC’s first drive of the second quarter. The freshman is healthy again after injuring his knee in the win against Washington State. Even if Dart didn’t get the start against Arizona, it was expected that he would get into the game for some plays, especially after his dynamic debut several weeks ago.

Dart’s return to the field energized a sleepy crowd at the Coliseum, prompting a “Let’s go Dart” chant from the student section. The crowd, which is less than half full, needed something to get excited about as the Trojans have lost three straight home games.

The Trojans and Dart started the drive from their four-yard line after a second sack from defensive lineman Tuli Tuipuloto prompted Arizona to punt.

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Arizona converts fake punt

Scratch that punting thing for Arizona.

The Wildcats ran for 32 yards on a fake punt, snapping the ball to Drake Anderson, who was lined up as a blocker in front of the punter, and moving all the way to the USC 43-yard line. Arizona boldly ran the play on its own 25-yard line on fourth-and-five, but head coach Jedd Fisch earned a reputation for trick plays dating back to his time as UCLA’s offensive coordinator.

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USC punts after penalty stalls drive as first quarter ends

A critical offensive penalty killed a promising USC drive, forcing the Trojans to punt when they could have been within three yards of a touchdown.

Running back Keaontay Ingram’s 29-yard rush to the Arizona three-yard line was called back after a holding penalty on offensive lineman Courtland Ford. After an incomplete pass from Kedon Slovis on second down, the offense had to take a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty on third down. After the timeout, Slovis was sacked, bringing up a punt for the Trojans, who lead 14-7 after the first quarter.

USC forced a three-and-out from the Arizona offense before for the quarter ended and the Wildcats will likely punt on fourth-and-five from their own 25 to start the second quarter.

Slovis is nine-of-11 passing for 145 yards and one touchdown. Ingram has seven carries for 23 yards and one touchdown.

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Football game or track meet?

Two plays after Arizona shocked USC with a deep touchdown pass, the Trojans answered with one of their own.

Kedon Slovis’ 62-yard pass to Gary Bryant Jr. has the Trojans ahead 14-7 with 9:53 to go in the first quarter of what is shaping up to be a high-scoring affair. Slovis is five-of-five passing for 111 yards and one touchdown.

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Arizona answers with deep touchdown pass

Even defensive pass interference didn’t stop the touchdown from happening.

Arizona didn’t waste any time after USC’s touchdown, scoring one of its own with receiver Jamarye Joiner throw a 73-yard bomb to Tayvian Cunningham to even the game at 7-7 with 10:31 to go in the first quarter.

Isaiah Pola-Mao was called for pass interference on the play, but Cunningham was still able to brush the safety off, catch the pass and run into the end zone. The Wildcats, so energized from the play, received a sideline warning for the celebration. The sparse USC crowd was stunned silent.

Joiner did not start at quarterback, but was expected to take some snaps at the position this week as the Wildcats are dealing with injuries. He was a star quarterback in Tucson’s Cienega High, throwing for 2,196 yards as a senior with 26 touchdowns.

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Keaontay Ingram opens game with touchdown run

That’s the start USC needed.

The Trojans opened the game with an effortless seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead with 11:23 to go in the first quarter after a three-yard touchdown run from Keaontay Ingram.

Ingram had three carries for eight yards and one catch for 15 yards on the drive. Quarterback Kedon Slovis completed all three of his pass attempts for 36 yards.

Arizona safety Jaxsen Turner was ejected for targeting on the drive, which gave the Trojans an extra 15 yards on the penalty and moved them into the red zone. He is Arizona’s second-leading tackler with 38 tackles entering the game with 2.5 tackles for loss.

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USC, Kedon Slovis starts on offense

Jaxson Dart is healthy again, but Kedon Slovis will keep his starting job. For now.

The junior quarterback gets the start against Arizona as the Trojans get the ball to start at the Coliseum. USC is trying to snap a three-game home losing streak. The Wildcats, who have lost 19 straight games, seem like the perfect opponent for the struggling Trojans.

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USC defensive line will be short-handed against Arizona

USC will be without three defensive linemen against Arizona as Nick Figueroa, Jamar Sekone and Ishmael Sopsher are not in uniform during warmups.

Figueroa, a senior, has played through a shoulder injury for most of this season. He has 10 tackles and two tackles for loss this year. Sekone, a redshirt freshman, has four tackles.

Sopsher made his USC debut last week after transferring from Alabama. A leg injury kept the sophomore out of spring practice and limited his availability during the first half of the season.

USC is trying to snap a three-game home losing streak during which it gave up 43 points per loss. The Trojans have lost to Stanford, Oregon State and Utah at home already.

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Jaxson Dart won’t start at QB? Why USC freshman might stay No. 2 behind Kedon Slovis

Southern California quarterback Jaxson Dart throws a pass while pressured by Washington State linebacker Jahad Woods
Southern California quarterback Jaxson Dart (2) throws a pass while pressured by Washington State linebacker Jahad Woods (13) Sept. 18 in Pullman, Wash.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Ahead of an unexpected debut that left fans clamoring for more from their freshman quarterback, a package had already been drawn up for Jaxson Dart in USC’s offense.

The hope leading into the Washington State game last month had been to gradually work in the talented young passer. A few plays here, a few plays there — just enough to give Dart valuable experience but not overexpose him. Coaches planned to first pepper the freshman in on third-and-short and red zone situations, where he could be used as a threat on run-pass option plays, “to give a wrinkle here and there,” interim coach Donte Williams explained at the time.

Instead, those plans were sped up considerably. The helmet of a Cougars defender collided with Kedon Slovis’ neck, knocking him out of the game against Washington State and thrusting Dart into action. He responded with the most dynamic debut for a quarterback in USC history.

Knee surgery sidelined Dart for the next six weeks, quieting any talk of a competition between the electric freshman and Slovis, USC’s third-year starter and two-time All-Pac-12 passer. But after a full week of practice, all signs point to Dart being cleared to play ahead of Saturday’s game against Arizona, which comes to the Coliseum riding a 19-game losing streak.

Williams wouldn’t offer much insight into what role Dart might play against the Wildcats, but noted that Dart “looks fine to me. He looks ready to go.”

So what might that mean for how USC plans to move forward with its freshman signal caller? And what about Slovis, whose season was expected to catapult the junior quarterback into serious draft consideration? Those questions could loom large with five games left and USC’s chances of at least posting a winning season slipping further out of reach.

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USC vs. Arizona: College football betting lines, odds and picks

USC safety Chase Williams celebrates with cornerback Joshua Jackson Jr. after pulling in an interception
USC safety Chase Williams, left, celebrates with cornerback Joshua Jackson Jr. after intercepting a pass thrown by Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis Saturday in Boulder, Colo.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Moral victories aren’t really enough for USC but might be the only thing left at the end of this season. The Trojans played a decent first half in South Bend, but 178 yards of offense were largely wasted with a punt, a red zone pick, a short field goal and the game clock striking zero.

A missed field-goal attempt soured a solid first possession in the second half and USC trailed 24-3 before scoring again. When all was said and done, the Trojans won the yardage battle 428-383 and won yards per play 6.1 to 5.4, but lost by double digits for the fourth time this season.

Now the focus shifts to the most winnable game left on the schedule and there really needs to be a series of feel-good moments against Arizona.

Arizona Wildcats at USC Trojans (-21, 56.5)

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USC coaching search heat check 3.0: The latest hottest — and coldest — candidates

Baylor coach Dave Aranda congratulates offensive lineman Mose Jeffery after a score
Baylor head coach Dave Aranda congratulates offensive lineman Mose Jeffery after the Bears scored against Texas Saturday in Waco, Texas.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

It’s been more than seven weeks since USC fired football coach Clay Helton and embarked on its first coaching search since 2013. The Los Angeles Times will perform a temperature check right here as developments occur. This third “Heat Check” is informed more by our own reporting and intuition about the search’s direction than previous installments, which were based mostly on the general buzz around each candidate. The closer we get to the end of the regular season in five weeks, the more information we’ll have to zero in on the next leader of the Trojans.

HOT

We’re still too far from Thanksgiving to smell the turkey cooking. It won’t be long, though.

WARM

MOVING UP: Dave Aranda, Baylor head coach: There’s been a shakeup at the top since our previous list from early October when Aranda made his first appearance. This may not be a projected winner that excites the average USC fan, and, if you’re disappointed Aranda is here instead of James Franklin, Luke Fickell or Matt Campbell, treat this as just that — a projection.

Coming off a rough 2-7 first season under Aranda that was played in a pandemic, Baylor is 6-1 and ranked No. 16 entering a three-game stretch when the Bears host Texas and No. 4 Oklahoma in Waco, Texas. Baylor already boasts wins over top-25 teams Iowa State and Brigham Young, is allowing fewer than 200 yards passing per game and has the No. 9 rushing attack in the country at 238 yards per game.

It should take more than one good season to become USC’s head coach, but Aranda’s impressive track record as a defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and Louisiana State deserves weight too. Aranda’s unit at LSU was a vital part of the 2019 national championship run, and, with Ed Orgeron now on his way out, it’s hard not to shift even more credit Aranda’s way.

That makes Aranda an appealing candidate in Baton Rouge, too, but there’s reason to believe USC could get him to Los Angeles. USC athletic director Mike Bohn pursued Aranda to be the Trojans’ defensive coordinator after 2019 and nearly had him signed before Baylor swooped in. Think Bohn hasn’t been paying attention to what Baylor is doing this year? Unlike other top names in the search, Aranda has strong local ties and could be looking to come home. The son of Mexican immigrants, he grew up in Redlands and played football at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, where he also got his start as a college coach.

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