TUCSON, Ariz. — Any hopes then-No. 9 USC had of playing in Miami for the BCS National Title game are essentially gone.
Trailing by three points, the Trojans were unable to convert a late Hail Mary attempt as time expired, losing 39-36 at Arizona Stadium.
Despite a school-record 345 receiving yards from sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee, the Trojans’ 13 penalties and five turnovers ultimately led to their downfall.
“It was a very discouraging loss today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “We made a lot of mistakes and weren’t able to catch up.”
The game was filled with penalties and strange calls for USC (6-2, 4-2) from the onset. After receiving the opening kickoff, junior running back Silas Redd appeared to score on a 34-yard touchdown run, but officials ruled he was down after he spun off an Arizona defender and his elbow touched the ground.
Senior quarterback Matt Barkley, who threw for a school-record 493 yards on the afternoon to go along with his three touchdown passes, was intercepted off a tipped pass with 9:15 left in the first quarter. A taunting penalty by senior safety T.J. McDonald left the Trojans’s defense on the field after what should have been a three-and-out. Arizona quarterback Matt Scott threw an eight-yard touchdown later on in the drive, to make it 7-0 for the Wildcats.
Lee caught a 57-yard pass on first-and-30 later in the first quarter. But on fourth-and-2, Barkley missed sophomore tight end Xavier Grimble in the end zone and the Trojans gave the ball back to Arizona (5-3, 1-3). The Wildcats finished the opening frame up 10-0.
“We made plays out there; there’s no question about the playmaking of our guys,” Barkley said. “But we just kept cheating ourselves early in the game.”
The second quarter didn’t start much better for the Trojans, as Redd fumbled at the Arizona 10-yard line. The Trojans’ defense held, however, and forced a Wildcat punt.
With 11:12 left in the half, Lee caught another deep pass, this one for 50 yards. The Trojans scored with a little more than 10 minutes left when Barkley hit Grimble in the flat, after which he took it upfield.
Barkley was intercepted on the next Trojan drive, though, giving the Wildcats the ball at the 34-yard line. But Arizona failed to convert a fourth-and-5, and Lee again made a highlight-reel play on the ensuing possession.
Lee took a short slant pass 49 yards and blazed past Wildcat defenders, giving the Trojans their first lead of the day at 14-10. Starling intercepted a Scott pass but was stripped by an Arizona player, which gave the Wildcats the ball at the 28-yard line. Arizona made the most of it by hitting a 44-yard field goal to cut the Trojan lead to one.
After a couple more big plays from Lee, D.J. Morgan took it in from the three-yard line. USC took a 21-13 lead into the locker room.
“We all know he’s a special player,” Barkley said of Lee. “All the yards after the catch and what he can do with the ball.”
Things looked as if they might have finally turned around for the Trojans after halftime, as they got off to a fast start in the third quarter. Lee caught a 44-yard touchdown to break R. Jay Soward’s school record of 260 yards and Mike Hass’ conference record of 293 receiving yards in a game.
The Wildcats, as was the theme the entire game, responded with four minutes left in the third. Scott scored on a quarterback draw to bring Arizona closer at 28-20. Sophomore running back D.J. Morgan fumbled on the next drive and the Wildcats capitalized with a touchdown pass from Scott to receiver Dan Buckner. They missed the two-point conversion, trailing the Trojans 28-26.
The fourth quarter, however, was when things fell apart.
Arizona took a 32-28 lead with 10:46 left in the fourth after the Trojans failed to convert a fourth-and-two attempt. They scored again on Scott’s third scoring pass of the day with just under six minutes left in the game.
“They did what they had to do to win,” junior cornerback Nickell Robey said. “We gave a lot of effort and we played the best game we can play. The effort level we had today was remarkable.”
Lee returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards, and the Trojans scored on a 10-yard touchdown run from Redd. USC converted a two-point try on a pass to Lee, bringing the Arizona lead to just 39-36.
That was as close as it would get, though.
The Trojans got the ball back with just under a minute left, and had the chance to win the game on a last second Hail Mary. Lee had a chance to secure a jump ball in the endzone as time expired, but lost the ball in a scrum of Arizona defenders.
“You never know. Those are kind of throw-up plays,” Barkley said of the last-second heave. “I don’t think it should have come down to a play like that in the first place. It’s unfortunate that it did.”
After the disappointing loss, the Trojans face No. 4 Oregon on Nov. 3 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t make the plays — all the credit to Arizona,” sophomore cornerback Josh Shaw said. “Now we’ve just got to regroup, come back and we have a big week ahead. Guys are kind of down right now … but we’ll come back.”
Kickoff for the next game, which will be televised on FOX, is set for 4 p.m.