The USC Trojans have had plenty of time to stew over their first loss of the season and will no doubt be eager to erase that taste from their mouths when they take on the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson on Saturday night. USC (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) lost a heartbreaker to Utah its last time out and returns from a bye with a roster that's at less than full strength. Arizona (3-4, 1-3) is hoping for better results after a rough start in conference play.
Even with the 43-42, last-second loss in Salt Lake City to the Utes, the 10th-ranked Trojans are very much alive for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game, but their margin of error has narrowed considerably. What's more, head coach Lincoln Riley likely won't have all of his starters available, as injuries to Jordan Addison and Ralen Goforth could impact USC on both sides of the ball. Does that mean the Trojans are ripe for an upset in the desert? History is not on the Wildcats' side, having lost nine in a row to the Men of Troy.
No. 10 USC at Arizona
When USC Has the Ball
If the Trojans' 43-42 loss at Utah, a game they led by as many as 14 points before giving up the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion with just 48 seconds left, wasn't bad enough, Addison sustained a leg injury in the third quarter. While specifics have been scarce, the belief is that the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner (and Pitt transfer) avoided a serious injury. Riley has referred to Addison as "day to day," so it's possible he could end up playing Saturday night. More likely, however, is Addison will sit this one out since USC should have more than enough firepower to outscore Arizona.
To that end, running back Travis Dye could be called upon to do a little more. The Oregon transfer has been a crucial component of an offense that is tied for third in the Pac-12 in scoring (40.4 ppg) and is fourth in total (475.3 ypg) offense. Dye is second in the conference in rushing (647 yds.) and is tied with Addison for the team in touchdowns with seven (all rushing). Arizona has been particularly vulnerable against the run, giving up 207.4 yards per game (121st nationally), along with 20 rushing touchdowns (T-126th), which makes a Dye-centric game plan look even more appealing.
But the Wildcats won't forget about quarterback Caleb Williams, who is coming off of an impressive showing (381 passing yds., 5 TDs) in the loss to Utah. Even though he may not have Addison, Williams has plenty of other options to throw to, including fellow Oklahoma transfer Mario Williams, who put up 145 receiving yards on just four catches against the Utes. Whoever he throws to, Caleb Williams should be able to have success against an Arizona defense that's surrendered 14 touchdown passes and recorded just two interceptions.
When Arizona Has the Ball
Statistically speaking, the Wildcats aren't too far behind USC on offense. Arizona is averaging 466 yards per game (sixth in Pac-12), although the scoring is a little further behind (31.6 ppg) in comparison. Still, the key for head coach Jedd Fisch's team is to try and take advantage of a Trojans defense that could be down linebackers Eric Gentry (knee) and Ralen Goforth (hand). If either plays, it likely will come down to a game-time decision.
The challenge for the Wildcats is getting more out of a running game that's produced just four rushing touchdowns in its conference matchups. It's been a committee approach in the backfield with Michael Wiley, Jonah Coleman, and DJ Williams getting the bulk of the work. Quarterback Jayden de Laura has been carrying this offense on his shoulders, as he's second in the Pac-12 in passing yards (2,274) and is tied with Caleb Williams for second in touchdown passes (19). The Washington State transfer has thrown seven interceptions, which is not a good sign given USC's ball-hawking ways (12 INTs, tied for second in FBS) this season.
USC won't be at full strength for this game and is coming off of a loss, but the Trojans also have had plenty of time to stew over the Utah collapse, so Arizona better be ready. Not only would it be a good idea for Riley to not rush his banged-up starters back into action, he probably won't need them either considering the significant talent advantage USC enjoys over the Wildcats. In each of its three conference losses so far, Arizona has given up 49 points. Caleb Williams and Co. should be able to do that, if not more, even if Addison sits this one out.
Prediction: USC 52, Arizona 16
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— Written by Kane Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.
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