No. 20 USC at Arizona
Saturday, Nov. 14, 12:30 p.m., Arizona Stadium. TV: Channel 11. Radio: 790
USC’s linebackers vs. Arizona running back Gary Brightwell. New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was brutally honest in his assessment of his linebackers after USC’s opener. Their shortcomings were a major reason why the Trojans gave up 258 rushing yards to Arizona State, and they’ll need to play much better if USC hopes to slow down Arizona’s tempo offense this week. Brightwell, the Wildcats’ senior running back, will need to be the focal point, if Arizona has any hope of controlling the ball and keeping USC on its heels. Brightwell has averaged 5.8 yards per carry over the course of his Arizona career, but until now, he’s never been the centerpiece of the Wildcats’ run game.
USC (556 ypg, 28 ppg): In an offensive effort that could hardly be described as its finest, USC still racked up a league-leading 556 yards in Week 1. It makes you wonder what this offense could be capable of when firing on all cylinders. This week, we may find out what that looks like, as Arizona rolls out a defense that ranked worst in the Pac-12 a season ago and has yet to play this season. Expect quarterback Kedon Slovis to come out firing, and USC’s wideouts to exploit their physical advantages early on. As long as the Trojans can avoid costly turnovers, they shouldn’t have any issue moving the ball.
The Trojans don’t look like a team that can contend for a College Football Playoff spot, but Clay Helton’s team showed Saturday it won’t give up.
Arizona (440.1 ypg, 26.9 ppg last season): The Khalil Tate era is officially over, as Arizona moves away from a dual threat and more toward a traditional pocket passer at the quarterback position. Grant Gunnell looked good in relief of Tate last season, throwing nine touchdowns to just one interception, and his stewardship of the offense should be a bit less of a roller coaster. But is he dynamic enough to outduel Slovis? He’ll have some help with a solid backfield that includes not only Brightwell, but also Michael Wiley and Nathan Tilford. Arizona will have to control the clock and keep its offense on the field if it hopes to upset USC. That probably means a heavy dose of the run game against a USC defense that was caught out of assignment often against the run last week.
USC (392 ypg, 27 ppg): Where its linebackers struggled, USC’s secondary seemed to rise to the occasion in its opener. Left often in man coverage, corners Olaijah Griffin and Chris Steele locked down Arizona State’s receivers, and now face a less-dynamic group on the road at Arizona. They could be tested more often this week, especially if Arizona falls behind. A better pass rush would help matters, and on that front, Drake Jackson could be poised for a big performance. He had four pressures last week but was unable to secure a sack. Count on that to change in this game.
After USC’s uneven defensive debut, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is confident he’ll have the defense on that track soon.
Arizona (471.4 ypg, 35.8 ppg last season): It’s difficult to know what to expect from Arizona on the defensive end, considering we haven’t seen Paul Rhoads coordinate a defense since 2017 at Arkansas. And this is hardly an SEC-caliber defense. Arizona will need to create pressure to force Slovis into mistakes, but that was an issue for this group last season. It wasn’t the only issue either. Pac-12 opponents ran all over the Wildcats down the stretch last season, notching six games of 200-plus rushing yards.
USC’s new kicker Parker Lewis didn’t get to attempt his first field goal last week against Arizona State, but he did try his first onside kick, and that went quite well. Chances are the true freshman will get his chance this week. Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin has said he feels a lot better about his own kicking game this year, but the reality is that kicker Lucas Havrisik was one of the worst in the Pac-12 last season, making under 59% of his field goal attempts.
Arizona hasn’t won a football game in over a calendar year, with its last victory coming on Oct. 5 of last season against Colorado. USC hasn’t lost any of its last seven meetings to Arizona, with its last defeat coming in October 2012, the Trojans’ third season under Lane Kiffin.
USC will be without its starting center Brett Neilon, who suffered an ankle sprain against Arizona State. Redshirt sophomore Justin Dedich, widely viewed as the Trojans’ top reserve lineman, will step in. … Defensive tackle Brandon Pili will also miss the game as he recovers from surgery on his finger. … Arizona is also expected to be without its center, Josh McCauley, who is dealing with a knee injury.