GAME NOTES: Two talented Pac-10 programs will collide in Tucson this weekend, as the 18th-ranked Arizona Wildcats welcome the USC Trojans to town.
Victories in two of the last three outings have enabled USC to move to 6-3 overall and an even 3-3 in Pac-10 action. The Trojans were pushed to the limit by Arizona State last weekend, but the result of that contest was a thrilling 34-33 victory. Lane Kiffin, the first-year head coach of USC, knows that his team would be in an even better position if not for losses to Stanford and Washington by a combined total of three points, but that doesn't dull the thrill of last week's win.
Arizona is undoubtedly eager to get back on the field after being completely outclassed in last weekend's 42-17 loss to Stanford, That defeat halted a three-game win streak for the Wildcats and seemingly crushed any hope the club had of competing for the Pac-10 title. Mike Stoops' team has three contests remaining on the schedule, including this weekend's affair, and the top-ranked Oregon Ducks are up next for the Wildcats.
USC owns a 25-7 series advantage over Arizona, but the Wildcats did win last season's meeting by a 21-17 final to halt a seven-game skid to the Trojans.
USC is generating 36.4 ppg and 470.8 total ypg, outstanding numbers for a team that garners very little media attention for its on-the-field actions these days. Matt Barkley has been sensational under center for the Trojans, as he has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,348 yards and 24 touchdowns against only eight interceptions. His top target, Ron Johnson, has hauled in 46 receptions for 546 yards and eight scores, while Robert Woods has six touchdown catches to his credit. As for Marc Tyler, who paces the club with 626 rushing yards and eight scores, he is listed as questionable for this tilt with an injured ankle.
Opponents are posting 28.4 ppg against USC, which is allowing 423.9 total ypg. Obviously, there is room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball for the Trojans, who are particularly vulnerable against the pass. Foes are racking up 276.4 passing ypg against USC at a clip of 13.2 yards per completion, and 22 passing scores have been surrendered already. Opponents have been able to make good on 45 percent of their third down conversion attempts against USC, and that figure is simply too high. T.J. McDonald paces the defense with 68 total tackles and three interceptions.
Last weekend, USC finished with 402 total yards against Arizona State, four more yards than the total of the Sun Devils. Barkley did toss a couple of interceptions in that tilt, but he was able to complete 26-of-37 attempts for 215 yards and three touchdowns. Tyler had a receiving touchdown in that game as well as 119 rushing yards, proof of his importance to the offense. Johnson and Woods combined for only 35 receiving yards and need to bounce back strong this weekend.
Joe Houston, who missed two field goals early on, kicked a 29-yard field goal with just over three minutes remaining that proved to be the game winner.
"I started off the game about as bad as you could ever dream," Houston said. "I was living a nightmare. Redemption is a sweet thing."
Arizona is generating 30.9 ppg and 450.6 total ypg, impressive numbers for an offense with plenty of firepower. Both quarterback Nick Foles and wideout Juron Criner are a bit banged up, but both are expected to be on the field this weekend. Foles has completed 71.8 percent of his passes for 1,848 yards and 10 touchdowns against six interceptions, numbers that are certainly aided by Criner's presence. The star pass-catcher has 58 receptions for 884 yards and six scores through nine tilts. Arizona employs a backfield-by-committee approach to running the ball, and the results have been solid, as the team is posting 155.8 ypg on the ground.
Defensively, the Wildcats are yielding just 17.4 ppg and 311.7 total ypg thanks to strong play against the run. Arizona is only allowing 102.7 ypg at a clip of 2.9 yards per carry, and eight rushing touchdowns have been permitted in nine games. While the pass defense hasn't been quite as good, there is still time for improvement. Arizona has 27 sacks to its credit but needs to play better on third down. Keep an eye on Ricky Elmore, who has recorded eight sacks thus far.
Arizona only turned the ball over once against Stanford last week and generated 428 total yards in that game. The Wildcats rushed for 180 yards at a clip of 5.8 yards per carry, and Foles threw for 248 yards. Still, it took him 28 completions to reach that total, and Criner's nine catches totaled only 98 yards. Clearly, Stanford did an outstanding job of limiting the Wildcats' big plays.
The Arizona defense struggled against Stanford, yielding 510 total yards, including well over 200 yards both rushing and receiving. The unit looked shockingly sub par, something that can't be said often this year.
In what figures to be a high-scoring affair that is entertaining from start to finish, expect the Wildcats to find a way to win at home.