Trojans look to complete season sweep of Arizona schools when they take on the Wildcats in Tucson
One week after the USC Trojans pulled out a thrilling win over Arizona State at the last grasp, the Pac-12 South favorites will continue their Grand Canyon State tour when they play the Arizona Wildcats.
The Trojans already dispatched of perhaps their biggest threat to the South Division crown last week, even if it took a massive comeback. Now they travel to face the last-place South Division-finisher before hosting two-time defending champ Utah at home. And they're hoping to avoid another big comeback in the process.
Down 13 with under three minutes left against ASU, quarterback Kedon Slovis connected with Bru McCoy on fourth-and-13 for a 26-yard touchdown. After recovering the onside kick, Slovis again found a way to make it happen — this time a 21-yard pass to Drake London on fourth-and-9. Arizona State did get one last chance with 1:20 left but only completed one pass on its final drive, as if USC used up all the allotted drama for the game.
Arizona, meanwhile, didn't get a chance to change the narrative from last season's 4-8 campaign, as its season-opener against Utah was canceled when positive COVID-19 cases and isolation protocols left the Utes without enough players. But if they are anything like last year's team, this could be a high-scoring affair — especially for the road team.
Over the course of their history, Arizona has only beaten USC a grand total of eight times in 36 games. They last beat USC in 2012, but that's why they play the game. So, given that, let's take a look at the keys to the game.
No. 20 USC at Arizona
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: USC -11
When Arizona Has the Ball
Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell is an extremely talented passer. In just eight games last season, Gunnell passed for 1,239 yards, with nine touchdowns to only one interception. If USC doesn't generate pressure on Gunnell, he will find a way to pick the defense apart, and he has no problem finding his favorite target, wide receiver Jamarye Joiner.
Locking down Joiner is a must. Not only is Joiner their best receiver, but the former quarterback has a unique understanding of both roles. This is how he's excelled at the transition to receiver. If Joiner is allowed space to work on Saturday, he will absolutely eat the Trojans alive a la Austin Hill in 2012.
Arizona also has a dangerous running game to back up Gunnell's arm talent. Gary Brightwell and Michael Wiley provide a significant one-two punch for the Wildcats. The Trojan linebackers will need to maintain gap integrity, and the defensive line will need to be run-stuffers on Saturday. If they can contain the running attack of Arizona, it will make it a lot harder for the Wildcats to win.
When USC Has the Ball
Slovis is USC's metronome. The Trojan offense beats to his rhythm, and he will need to continue his stellar play if the Trojans want to grow in 2020. Slovis had outstanding highs against the Sun Devils, but he also threw a pick and was sacked thrice. If Slovis can take care of the football and avoid sacks, he can absolutely torch the Wildcat.
Penalties really have to stop. The Trojans averaged 67.5 yards per game in penalties in 2019 (117th nationally), and they had 59 on Saturday to go with six turnovers, if you count turnovers-on-downs. This is not a recipe for success, and it's a pattern that USC has been unable to avoid in recent years. It seemed like most of Saturday's penalties occurred with folks trying to play aggressively in new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando's scheme. That isn't too bad, but the penalties on offense that set back drives must stop.
Listen, not much has changed from last week when it comes to the running game for USC. The Trojans may have had 200 yards of rushing on Saturday, but most of that game at the very end when ASU's defense was exhausted. No Trojan running back had more than 60 yards, and while USC was working the Sun Devils by committee, it was apparent that they couldn't run the ball when they had to, and that will have to change.
Arizona is a scrappy team, and head coach Kevin Sumlin knows how to create a winning gameplan, but the Wildcats don't have a strong record against the Trojans, and the line for this game suggests this one won't be close either. But that's the on-paper scenario, and the Trojans still have to play the game. If USC doesn't take Arizona seriously, the Trojans will lose.
USC should come out firing on all cylinders and force the Wildcats to keep up with them on offense. This is a great way to force turnovers and create defensive stops. If USC can strike a proper balance between the run and the pass, Arizona doesn't really have the linebackers at the second level to bother USC. Expect the Trojans to attack this with passion.
At the end of the day, USC should win this game rather handily. The Trojans have way too much talent on offense, and they have enough on defense to stifle any team. The question for USC has always been effort on Saturdays. Are they interested? Are they focused? These things have bit Trojan head coach Clay Helton in the rear a couple of times, and he'll want to shed that narrative on Saturday with a convincing win.
Prediction: USC 42, Arizona 24
Podcast: Week 11 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.