Podcast: Can the Trojans tame the pass-happy Wildcats?
After spending their last four weeks in Los Angeles, the Trojans take to the road for three of their final four games, starting Saturday at No. 18 Arizona.
The Wildcats are coming off a disappointing loss to Stanford, but are the last ranked opponent on USC’s schedule. Kickoff is at 5 p.m.
The Trojans, meanwhile, might still be counting their blessings after a narrow 34-33 win over Arizona State last week. Nevertheless, with no possibility of a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, the Trojans’ goal for the next four games is simple.
“We just want to win,” senior cornerback Shareece Wright said. “We know it’s not going to be easy, but we want to win.”
A victory in Tucson, Ariz., would certainly be a strong statement in this up-and-down season, but it won’t come easy. The Wildcats are talented on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Nick Foles leads Arizona’s offense. Foles has completed 71.8 percent of his passes this season, by far the best in the Pac-10. His top target is receiver Juron Criner, who also leads the conference with 58 receptions. Perhaps more importantly for USC, Criner caught the game-winning touchdown against the Trojans last year at the Coliseum.
Wright said stopping the Wildcats’ aerial attack will be the Trojans’ biggest challenge, but Arizona also moves the ball on the ground behind the two-pronged attack of running backs Keola Antolin and Nic Grigsby.
Arizona’s offense relies on quick passes to Criner and fellow receivers David Roberts and David Douglas. Together, they make up a receiving corps that will test a young USC secondary that is 114th in the nation against the pass.
Wright knows what to expect.
“They throw the rock,” he said.
Wright spoke earlier in the week about the Trojan defense having confidence against the favored Wildcats. If they come in prepared, the formula is simple.
“We’re going to have to just contain their running back and slow down their passing game,” Wright said.
When its defense has faltered against high-powered offenses, USC’s offense has been able to keep the Trojans in games. That will prove difficult against Arizona, which boasts the conference’s best scoring defense, yielding only 17.4 points per game.
Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley and the Trojan offense will be tested. The good news for Barkley is freshman receiver Robert Woods should be back to full-strength by Saturday.
Woods was hospitalized last week because of severe back pain and vomiting.
He played against the Sun Devils on Saturday but was ineffective, catching only three passes for 18 yards.
The Trojans have experienced huge drop offs when either Woods or team-leading senior receiver Ronald Johnson have been at less than full strength.
“Hopefully both guys will be 100 percent going into Saturday,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
Junior running back Marc Tyler should also return to the lineup. Tyler came off the bench and led the Trojans on the ground with 119 yards last week, but left the game with an ankle injury.
Freshman running back Dillon Baxter, who started his first career game last week, could start again depending on how Tyler feels on game day.
With the season more than two-thirds over, USC would like to build on a strong win over Arizona. Even though the Trojans can’t win the Pac-10 or go to a bowl game, Wright said there are valuable lessons being learned by his young teammates.
“For the guys that are going to come back next year, they’re learning too,” Wright said. “They’re learning how to compete when it’s not easy.”