The setup: Hoping to ride the emotional high of its victory over UCLA last weekend, USC welcomed surprise Pac-10 contender Arizona into the Coliseum for the Trojan’s Senior Day, looking to end its regular season on a high note.
The story: Arizona took advantage of a uneven Trojan offense and marred Senior Day, walking out of the Coliseum with a 21-17 victory, its first in the stadium since 2000.
“Obviously its extremely disappointing for our seniors, we wanted them to go out on the right note,” coach Pete Carroll said.
The Wildcats racked up 321 total yards including quarterback Nick Foles’ 239 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Foles and the Arizona offense gave the Trojans fits all day, especially on third-down situations, where the Wildcats converted nine of 17 opportunities – many of which came on third-and-long plays.
“They were as hot as they could be on third-down,” Carroll said.
Although the Trojans held the ball for less than 10 minutes in the first half, they found themselves down just seven heading into the half, on the strength of a touchdown reception from junior wide receiver Ronald Johnson.
Another touchdown in the second half and a field goal gave the Trojans a momentary lead, but a methodical 10-play 80-yard drive for the final score of the game from the Wildcats sealed the victory.
Given the chance for one final play, freshman quarterback Matt Barkley was sacked looking for an opening, and the Trojans were unable to secure a 10-win season for the first time since 2001.
Play of the game: Wildcat wide receiver Juron Criner’s leaping, stumbling 36-yard touchdown grab to cap off Arizona’s drive late in the fourth quarter secured the victory for the Wildcats.
After Foles had thrown a similar jump ball earlier in the game to set up the Wildcat’s second touchdown, the sophomore tried the same throw to the opposite side of the field, this time converting the attempt for a touchdown.
Injuries strike again: Fourth-year junior running back Allen Bradford, who led the team in rushing on Saturday, scored in the third quarter to tie the game and seemed to be keying the Trojans’ success early in the second half. However, when the fourth quarter rolled around, Bradford was nowhere to be seen.
“[Bradford] was really hot, really on it, but he got hurt,” Carroll said. “He had a knee that was banged against and he just couldn’t come back out.”
The senior class: After saying goodbye to a Coliseum crowd of 83,753, the senior class finished the season without a ticket to Pasadena for Rose Bowl booked for the first time in their four years.
“It’s just frustrating,” fifth-year senior safety Will Harris said. “Its been an emotional and frustrating year for us but we did the best we can.”
Harris, who recorded his team-leading fourth interception of the season during the game, was in an unfamiliar place after the game.
“I’ve never been a part of something like this [during my time] here,” Harris said. “All I can do is to be a leader and let the younger guys know that we can still finish strong the bowl game.”